Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gracias, Jay and Rob

Jay and Rob lived around the corner from me in Mexico.  I was sad when they moved to Spain, but we still get to see each other--so far we've managed to have three reunions in Europe.  This last one was particularly special because they met David for the first time.

As usual, these guys went out of their way to make sure David and I saw all the tourist sites as well as the hidden gems most tourists miss.  The last twelve days of our trip were especially wonderful because of them.

Thanks, Jay and Rob, for showing David and me the splendors of Spain.   We'll be looking forward to our next reunion!

Italy's and Spain's Quirks

Italy and Spain are full of intriguing quirks that delighted David and me.  This Easter display in Sorrento's Primavera Gelato shop had something for every nationality!
Europeans are adept at finding ways to adapt to their narrow streets.  We loved the three-wheeled cars and were amazed by the three-wheeled trucks.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Imagine an indigo sky as wide as forever with not even a wisp of white.

Underneath it put a mountain. No, make that a hill with showy palms, pointy cypress trees, and lacy lavender jacarandas. A hill high enough to provide sweeping views of the ocean below but low enough for an occasional shout from the beach crowd to echo up here.

Add narrow, twisting streets paved, not with asphalt, but with tiles or bricks in intricate patterns.

Place white-washed stucco houses with red-tiled roofs on either side of the street, and highlight the windows and balconies with splashes of emerald, pink, and fuchsia.

At the very top of the hill, place a white church in a grove of pine trees and sprinkle confetti on the sidewalk.

Have a just married couple walk down the hill to their reception just a few yards away behind the brown door.

Make sure there's a plaza with a whimsical fountain and tables and chairs and cafes.

Add more people. Happy to be sitting outside on a warm day talking to friends people. Resting their canes against the table and leaning in on their elbows people. Skipping, pig-tailed, not quite grown up people.

And don't forget you and me. 

Here in this lovely place, this Spanish town called Benalmadena Pueblo, that is so perfect just as we've imagined it that there's nothing more to add.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Torremolinos on $85 a Day - Gibraltar Rocks!

It's only an hour and a half drive to the United Kingdom from Torremolinos.

That is, it's an hour and a half drive if you want to see a pint-size version of England crammed into an area that's only 2 1/4 square miles in size.

This spur of land on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula is dominated by the Rock, of course, which, at almost 1400 feet, is truly impressive. Long symbolizing strength and endurance, the Rock is actually more like a honeycomb riddled with holes in the form of caves where Neanderthal fossils have been found along with tunnels that were dug during WW II. If you take the cable car to the top of the Rock, you'll see the wild Barbary apes cavorting in the nature preserve, St. Michael's Cave where concerts are held in the acoustically ideal chamber, and some spectacular views of Morocco.

Because the limestone outcropping dominates the landscape and leaves little flat land, the Rock has caused an interesting situation. There are no railroad crossings in town, but there is an airplane crossing. Gibraltar's only airplane runway crosses the main road into Gibraltar. When a flight is expected, the road is closed and drivers must wait for the plane to pass!

Back in the village, where some 30,000 inhabitants cling to the edge of the Rock, it is obvious that Gibraltar has an identity crisis.

It is officially a British possession with British currency, postage stamps, newspapers, TV stations and bars serving properly drawn pints, but the languages heard in town are Spanish and English.

The architecture is an interesting blend of at least two cultures--white-washed Spanish houses, often decorated with colorful tiles, have delicate Victorian cast-iron balconies.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spain's Scintillating Streets

Whether they jog to the right or zig-zag to the left or simply continue straight ahead, one detail is consistent about Spain's streets and sidewalks--they are delightfully crafted of  beautiful materials.

Marble, granite, brick or tile is arranged to be noticed in patterns that make a tourist want to watch his step. 
And the cities must budget considerable amounts to keep their streets so clean.  David and I have seen the cleaning machines, along with men and brooms, sweep our Nogalera Plaza in the early morning hours, and, judging by the pristine city streets, they must also work there on a regular basis.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Torremolinos on $85 a Day - Malaga

Malaga is the most underrated city in Spain. Most guidebooks mention it only in passing and passing through it quickly is the proffered advice. But I don't think those guidebook writers ever took the time to walk through this city or they would have been enchanted by its charms.

I mean, where else can you get free hugs? When you walk the city streets of marble, gaze at the architectural delights, ponder the public art, and smile at the flower-towers, you can't help but be delighted by Andalucia's largest coastal city.

And if the visual delights are not enough, Malaga, the birth city of Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas, has plenty of culture to share.

There's no shortage of ancient sites with a Roman Colosseum snuggling up to the Alcazaba (discussed below) while the Picasso and recently opened (spring 2011) Thyssen Museums, quench visitors' thirst for art.

The massive cathedral in the heart of the city, a national monument built in the 16th century, won't disappoint either. David, Jay, Rob and I were lucky enough to catch a free concert there, but, even without music, this architectural wonder sings. It is worth a detour to see the ornate side chapels, the soaring ceiling punctuated with lovely stained glass windows, and the unique ornamented choir stalls placed in the center of the church.

Quaint outdoor restaurants line the streets while the main street in town is a pedestrian-only gathering spot where friends actually talk to each other instead of their cell phones.

Malaga is also the starting point for an excellent light-rail system that will take you south along the coast as far as Fuengirola. The smooth-running coast train is an absolute pleasure to ride with spotlessly clean cars and destination announcements in both Spanish and English.

But you will leave Malaga reluctantly, shaking your head at the bad advice supplied by the guidebooks. Even if you don't get a free hug, the warm embrace of this lively and lovely town will captivate. This is a city for lingering and no matter how much time you allot, I promise you it will not be enough.

Practicalities -
Click for information about Malaga's museums

Click for information about Malaga's Cercanias light rail train.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Torremolinos on $85 a Day - Alcazaba, a Moorish Fortress and Palace

By all means, when you visit the Andalucia region of Spain, be one of the three million visitors to the Alhambra, but if you don't also visit the Alcazaba in Malaga, you will be missing a gem.

David and I enjoyed the Alhambra but we didn't appreciate the tedious bus ride, the crowds of people, and the difficult-to-understand guide. So, when our wonderful friends suggested we see the fortress-palace built by the Moors in the 11th century, close by in nearby Malaga and sure to be less crowded in the evening, we were excited.

Although now several blocks inland, this fortress was built when the sea lapped at its feet. The structure snakes up the hill, following its contours; the visitor path climbs ever upward leading us through defensive bulwarks, delightful formal gardens, unexpected fountains and reflecting pools, and through keyhole Moroccan doorways until, at last, we arrive at the palace.

We caught our breath here enjoying the detailed ceilings, the scroll work around the doorways, the display of pottery and ceramics, and the spectacular views of the city.

We realized that while the Alhambra was a bit more showy, the Alcazaba had almost as many fascinating architectural details and history, and, without the throngs of sightseers, our connection to this place felt far more intimate. David and I were glad we'd seen both sites.

Practicalities -
The site is open every day but Monday and costs about 2.10 euros per adult with discounts for children and EU senior citizens.

Spain is obviously not a litigious country because the opportunities to break a leg are numerous. Watch where you step at the Alhambra and the Alcazaba as there are holes, uneven paving, slippery rocks, and open gulleys all over the place.