In route to Spain, Barbara celebrated Mother's Day morning at the airport sipping her café whilst reading cards from the boys and myself. Our first lesson to traveling in Spain was understanding that the airlines to, from and within Spain do not provide the gate number of your flight until it is time to board. If you are an insistent American and manage to find the gate number in advance, you will only be confused due to the fact that you are the only person at the gate. You will however know that the gate has been posted when a long line forms in a matter of minutes. Our flight from Madrid to Malaga, Spain was simply listed as Gate HJK - about 80+ possible gates.
Using our time share resort in Fuengirola as a base, we rented a sporty "little" Fiat to drive to different locations each day. The resort itself was a very nice 2 story condo with 2 bedrooms, kitchen, family room washing machine, and 'house' cat.
Day 1 - Nerja (NEHR-hah)
After lounging a little in the morning, we headed north on the coast to see a few sights in Malaga and then to Nerja.
Malaga turned out to be our driver's training city. We were never able to stop to see anything in the city, but the driving experience was invaluable. Parking was insane. The streets often very narrow. Motor bikes do not have to follow any rules. The round-abouts were fun, allowing us to go round in circles until we found the right exit. And the most important highway rule, "no passing on the right". Slow cars in the fast lane are blinked, flashed and tail gated until they moved to the right lane. Armed with these new driving skills, we eventually navigated our way out of Malaga and headed north to Nerja.
Nerja is a charming little town with several small beaches, white washed buildings on narrow cobblestone roads and the Balcony of Europe. The Balcón de Europa is a promenade on the edge of a towering cliff with sweeping views of the Mediterranean. Originally the site of the a great Moorish caste, later named La Bateria and used as a gun battery, today it is a quaint promenade with beautiful views and plenty of cafés with outdoor seating.
After enjoying the balcony views, we found an outdoor table at one of the local "tapas" bars, where we soaked in the sites while sipping wine and eating various tapas (appetizers). After lunch, we toured the small church next door, then headed to one of the beaches for some rest.
The late afternoon was pleasant, wandering through the coblestone streets, eating ice cream, and visiting various shops. The city comes alive in the evening as people stroll the streets, visiting and enjoying the local cuisine. We had dinner at a restaurant with a view of the ocean and good food.
A highlight of the evening was our conversation with a few Brits. We laughed as we watched the women feed and play with a small herd of local cats. They asked us, "You haven't heard of the cats of Nerja?" (Which they pronounced as 'knee-HA') "They are very famous you know." One of the women remarked, "Be careful they don't bite you." To which the other rebutted, "Oh, no dear. They're not feral. Their vetted!"
All-in-all, Nerja was a wonderful visit and decidedly a place we would return too.
Day 2 - Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera - Crowns of the White Hill Towns
After a relaxing day on the coast recovering from jetlag, we headed southwest down the coast, then over the Sierra Almijara mountains to Rhonda - one of the most spectacular 'white hill towns' of Spain. Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, but its Roman and then Moorish rulers are reflected most prominently in its castle walls and architecture. The Spanish took control of the town in 1485 replacing the Moorish temple with the Convento de Santa Isabella. The Rio Guadalevin runs through the center of the city, carving out the steep El Tajo canyon spanned by three bridges including the most photographed Puento Nuevo. Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' describes the murder of a Nationalist sympathizer early in the Spanish Civil War by being thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo by the Republican forces.
We were both very taken by this city, despite all the climbing and driving along extremely narrow cobblestone roads. The Spaniards know Ronda as the home of modern bull fighting and still enjoy the spectacle at the Plaza de Toros, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain. Both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles resided in Ronda for many years. We explored the streets and walls, taking in the panoramic views, rich history, architecture, art, churches and convent. After a long march, we settled in for a relaxing and scenic lunch with a view of the El Tajo canyon. We later drove to the far side of town on even narrower roads to explore the Moorish castle walls, before moving on.
Arcos de la Frontera
Slowed by our lunch and the heat of the day, we hopped back into our trusty Fiat and headed to Arcos de la Frontera. One look at the town's spectacular position on a cliff above the Guadalete river and you understand its strategic importance. Initially established by early Iberians, it was occupied by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and finally by Catholic Spain. The town gained its name by being the frontier of Spain's 13th century battle with the Moors.
Wandering through the narrow streets, we watched children playing soccer on the steps of old churches, beautiful stone work, and one vehicle get stuck between buildings. The town was a maze of tall tight structures, history and fun shops. The streets were fairly quiet during the siesta hours, as we walked around care free in our shorts on the warm afternoon. As people began to emerge again in early evening, we received disapproving stares from the locals. We soon realized that evening attire (long pants) were the rule after 5:00 pm in this traditional town. Barbara caught quite the glares from the women of the town, as well as an occasional grin from the men.
Day 3 - Tangier, Moracco and Tarifa, Spain
Morning came early as we hopped into the Fiat and drove south to catch a ferry
to Morocco. The ferry departed from Tarifa, just beyond the Rock of Gibraltar.
It was inspiring to see both continents, while crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. As you step the ferry, you realize that the 45 minute ferry ride has
taken you further culturally than did the trip from the US to Spain. Morocco
needs no museums; its sights are living the people and surrounding.
Arriving in Tangier, we met with our pre-arranged guide, Aziz Begouri, who guided us around city, the Caves of Hercules, the famed Kasbah (old city). We
traveled out of the city to the tip of Africa to see where the Atlantic and
Mediterranean Oceans meet. The warm air coupled with the breeze
makes for perfect weather, much like Santa Barbara, California.
We felt the need to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean from the
African continent, while watching camel merchants and enjoying the beautiful
coastline. A short trip down the road landed us at the Caves of Hercules, much
of which was closed in preparation for the summer tourist trade.
Returning to the city, Aziz took us through the city area just outside of the
medina (old town). We soon learned that everyone knew Aziz. Every where we
turned, people were greeting or waved from distances as we passed. We enjoyed
samples of fresh goat cheeses wrapped in palm leaves, local
breads, and the world renown mint tea in a cafe normally just
for locals. The markets were a buzz with Moroccans making their
daily purchases. The fish and meat markets were entertaining as sold their
fresh and entertained passers-by. And of course, the fruit and spice markets
with their burst of colors and aromas are the target of every tourist's camera.
The twisty, hilly, very narrow streets of the old town and Kasbah are encircled by a medieval wall and accessible by keyhole gates. As we twisted through the maze of streets, we were very pleased to have a guide. The appearance of the city is old, but the dress of its inhabitance varied widely. Many observe vary traditional attire, while others were and interesting mix of both traditional and modern attire. Most interesting of all are the Berbers, the indigenous peoples of North Africa (much like the 'Native Americans' found in the US). The women of often ware colorful hats, while the men wear pointy hooded robes. Our Moroccan encounter was all too brief. Aziz stretched our stay to the last before using his connections to push us past the customs lines and whisked us back to our returning ferry. Exhausted and a little over-whelmed, we said Maa Salama to Tangier and headed back to Tarifa.
Tarifa, Europe's southernmost town is a whitewashed, Arab-looking town with a nice
beach, an old castle, restaurants, old churches and charm. Its proximate also means
that it is a very windy city, attested by the number of wind
surfers at the beach and windmills in the hillsides above. The
Castillo Guzman El Bueno (castle of Guzman the good) and walls
along the seaside were a point of interest, as was one of the
churches hidden deeper in the town.
Historically, this is a strategic location by many ruling nations over the millenniums. It served as a staging point for battles between the two continents and as a point of control for entry to and from the Mediterranean. Tarifa is sometimes credited with being the origin of the word, tariff, since it was the first port in history to charge merchants for the use of its docks, but other sources point to the Arabic word, ta'rïf, as the origin. The name "Tarifa" itself is derived from the name of the Berber warrior, Tarif ibn Malik, who led a small force across the straits in 710.
Too early for dinner, tired, and wind blown, we decided to hit the road and make our way back to our home base in Fuengirola.
Day 3 - Granada and the Alhambra Palace
Granada is not a place that should be explored in one day. And if you have the time, you should
give Granada several days to explore all that is available. But if one day is all
you have to spare, do not miss the opportunity to
explore this city. If the plethora of churches and
sites were not enough, the grand boulevards of
Granada rival those found Italy, Paris and the
like. Tired from our drive and orientation of the
city, we enjoyed one of the many outdoor cafés.
Refreshed and ready to go, we made our way to the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real). This
is without a doubt the top Christian sight; the final resting place of the Catholic
Monarchs, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Their marriage united the Aragon and
Castile kingdoms and led to the Reconquista and unity of Spain. This
last Moorish capital - symbolic of their victory - was their chosen
burial place. The gothic chapel is lavished with gold,
silver, ivory, marble and various forms of artwork.
Ferdinand and Isabella spend a fourth of their wealth
on the chapel. The chapel flows into a museum which contains
personal belongings of the king and queen and artwork from world
Next we entered the Cathedral, one of only two renaissance churches
in Spain. Granada's cathedral is the second-largest in Spain after
Sevilla's. Features works include series of paintings by Alonzo Cano
(1601 - 1667). Words cannot express the size and beauty of this
enormous structure. Photos cathedral dome and side by side pipe
organs shown below provide a glimpse of its majesty.
Due to our tight schedule, we pre-purchased and evening pass to the Alhambra.
Prior to our twilight tour, we dined at a hotel near the entrance. We enjoyed
gourmet dishes including baby eel and ox tail stew. After a glass of wine and
dessert, we were ready for a romantic tour of the Alhambra.
Nominated as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World,' the Alhambra was
the last Moorish stronghold in Europe. The Nazarids, an ethnic group of Spanish
Muslims, held Granada until 1492. Built in the 13th century, the Alhambra
Palace is a jewel of Moorish architecture. As the rest of Europe slumbered
through the Dark Ages, the Moorish magnificence blossomed --
busy stucco, plaster stalactites, colors galore, scalloped windows
framing Granada views, exuberant gardens, and water, water
everywhere. Water, so rare and precious in most of the Islamic
world, was the purest symbol of life to the Moors. The Alhambra is
decorated with water: standing still, cascading, bursting from
fountains, and playfully working its way through palace courtyards
and gardens. Look at the intricate patterns of sandstone, then
imagine them bursting with colors. This was the majesty of the Alhambra Palace 700 years ago.
After a dreamy tour of the grounds and palace structures, we regretfully departed late in the evening and made our way back to the Costa del Sol.
Day 4 - Solhail Caste in Fuegirlola, the Caves of Nerja, Frigilana and Cantarijan Beach
After several extensive days touring, we opted to enjoy the hospitality of a few smaller towns along the coast north of Malaga.