Ciao Andalucia, mi amore

Finally arrived to Andalusia, a dream of mine for decades. So fascinated by the culture and people, especially the history of this place.  The trip here was uneventful but wouldn’t say that it was smooth given my kid was restless, as always, for most of the trip and now that he is older entertaining him is more challenging.  Certainly wasn’t good news when the DVD movie I got him didn’t work with the DVD player (Region conflict, player from Canada, and DVD from UAE) but somehow the wife and I tag teamed and managed through shift work.  Regardless, after an 8-hour flight (plus one hour stop in Istanbul), Turkish airlines had great service.

Once we touched land, the car ride from Malaga to Granada, our first stop, proved long.  It didn’t help that the GPS we borrowed was not only useless but a liability making us circle the airport three times and taking us away from Granada to Santa Fe (30min extra).  My son was suffering a bit due to fatigue but generally nothing too bad.  The hotel is nice and having a walk to Nueve Square nearby was a good idea to stretch our legs in the evening.  Had a good seafood Paella (I have a feeling I’ll be overdosing on this national dish very soon).  The Gazpacho was great and an anchovy tomato sandwich, delicious.  The churros were not as good as I thought (i.e. not sweetened or had chocolate inside), but these are the real deal, very authentic and the accompanying hot chocolate was one of the best I ever had.  Had a nice walk around the Al Bayazin area, but the climb back up to our hotel pushing the stroller was challenging, showed how very fit (or unfit rather) I really was, and the misses was not wearing proper shoes (thin sandals) so she was struggling too.

So far so good though, and the sleep in our first night was much needed and very deep.  Looking forward to the main highlight of our trip tomorrow visiting the Al Hambra nearby, maybe seeing the cathedral and relaxing a bit before we head to Cordoba tomorrow.  So far impressed with the city (even at 6:00 a.m. all the lights are on and activities are found), everyone speaks English and is friendly. Driving here is a breeze (the Skoda we got is easy to handle and sharp in turns, as well as spacious inside). The city is much greener than I imagined, easier to walk around, and the weather is beautiful and pleasant with a nice summer breeze coming through.  Just found out though my computer screen has a line through it, must have been due to the baggage handling so I’m not happy about that, will try to fix it if I can when I head back to Dubai. (6:50 a.m., Al Hambra Palace Hotel)**

So it was quiet the eventful day; some good, some bad, and some felt bad but was good in the end.  An eventful day started slow with a nice but as usual argumentative breakfast with the little guy trying to get him to eat.  The variety was good and the food fresh, I was very impressed.  We reached the Alhambra after some disorientation in the gardens nearby.  The ordeal started when I came to the realization, at the palace gates, that I had paid for one adult and one child – didn’t even cross my mind even when I picked up the tickets.  After running around the ticket booth lady said they were sold out and no mercy or flexibility was shown to my great disappointment.  Went and bought a semi ticket to the gardens only. Still no hope, after being very disappointed with the lack of flexibility and the fact that English was a rarity in such a touristy place, I had to take the fam back to the hotel after she gracefully encouraged me to use the ticket and go it alone.  After a quick fight with my kid, in which he disowned me, I turned on the DVD for him and made my way out.  Al Hambra, a dream of mine since about high school if not earlier, did not disappoint.  The pictures I took in my cell, and after the battery died my camera whose battery was also dying, speak volumes of what an awesome building it was, a fairytale.  Everything I thought it would be and more.  I did realize as I started my personal tour in the “gardens of General life” that it was a good the fam didn’t come, I would have been rushing, they would have been complaining about the heat, the queue to the Nasirid palace would have been a disaster, I wouldn’t have climbed the towers and would have carried the stroller everywhere.  Thank God! Thank God!  Despite the fact that there were other kids there, I was glad to have it to myself to reflect and not have any distractions.  I did worry slightly about them but the fact they were in the hotel put my mind at ease.  After the great visit to one of my major bucket list items, I made my way back to the hotel with sore toes. Had a quick break and got ready to head back out again, not going to waste my time in a hotel while I’m surrounded by Andalusia’s beauty.

The magic of Alhambra

On my return from Al Hambra I asked around for recommendations on a great tapas place, I got an area as a recommendation and we headed there. We ended up at Los Tapas assuming the name guaranteed great tapas, first disappointment was there was no Eggplant with honey (as per our friend’s recommendations), so we ordered the eggplant with cheese, potato croquettes for the little guy and a sea food platter plus a gazpacho for us.  The gazpacho soup was great even though they didn’t serve it with diced tomatoes and onions, which added a great deal when I had it the night before.  The croquettes had ham so I plucked it out to eat and the seafood platter had sardines not anchovies as well as shrimp which wasn’t special, the eggplant was delicious and so was the bread – so a bit of a mixed bag really.

We had a nice stroll back and stopped via a small detour to a nearby cathedral.  Explored the Al Bayzin area.  We even managed to find a mini tot lot for the little guy to play in, had some swings and slides.  But getting back we got lost for at least an extra hour before finding the right road again.  Thankfully the little guy went to the bathroom at the tapas restaurant, and it’s not like we had anything else to do.  But bae was starting to feel the heat, while my legs were killing me since my walk this morning in Al Hambra.  When we got back we rested only to head out yet again to catch us a Flamenco show.  We got tickets to a small sort of Academy type theatre, very close to hour hotel, which at this stage is a blessing given the brutal climb up to our hotel. What a show!  Very intense and powerful, our first experience with the dance and we were all affected by it – even my son.

Didn’t take him long after the show, and soon after we reached the hotel, for him to crash (all of us really).  I had time to find the route to Cordoba tomorrow which will be our next stop.  Anxious about the drive again, hope it goes smoothly as it was to get here.  I’m also planning to hit the souvenir shop in Granada early before we leave to get a few gifts before we say Adious Granada! (12:50 a.m., Al Hambra Palace Hotel)**

So after the routine breakfast at the hotel we headed out to Cordoba, not much of an event other than I got all the required souvenirs just before we checked out.  The ride was shorter than expected thanks to the high speeds allowed on the Spanish highways (I found myself doing 150 to 160 km/hr depending on who is in front.  We managed to get into Cordoba and after a couple of confused loops around the hotel (not necessarily getting lost but not understanding how to go into the hotel) we finally made it.  The highlight which will no doubt cast a shadow over not just today but the trip in general is me scratching the rental when parking into the underground lot.  I hit a pillar damaging the right back door with scratch marks.  Not looking forward to the anticipated rip off from the budget car rental company that will follow.  I will try to suppress this issue, but no doubt it will explain my constant worry on this trip until I figure out the full cost.  I had intuitively known something like this would happen when the hotel desk told me I have to park myself, and seeing the narrow gateway – I just knew it.  We did a quick walk in the hot sunny afternoon to the Roman bridge and the Water wheel nearby and then off for some evening tapas, were we had the traditional customary argument (all three of us) and the silence that was our walk back to the hotel – every trip has this highlight (this along with the costly car scratches,  hopefully my quota is met for the trip for bad news).  Looking forward to seeing the Mezquieta tomorrow, will try to squeeze in the synagogue and then a walk-about if possible before the day’s end tomorrow.  So far I find Córdoba smaller and easier to navigate than Granada.  Although it isn’t a fair comparison as we did not go downtown Granada, but that is my initial sense anyway.  Both lovely cities however.  The imposing Mezquieta right outside our window is beckoning for an early visit tomorrow for sure. The hotel is nice, but typing this at night I can hear the loud conversation below –  noisy for comfort but expected given the central location in such a touristy place, hopefully we’re too tired to care and will fall sound asleep easily (11:14 p.m., Exe Conquistador Hotel, Cordoba)**

Perhaps today more than any other day things went smoothly enough and chilled enough to take a breather.  Son and wife spent a lot of time relaxed in the hotel in between outings.  I solo’ed it to the Mezquita and it was literally one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen, better than I imagined or anticipated.  I had time to imagine what life was like when the mosque was used as a full functioning mosque; inside and outside in the orange tree courtyard.  Was such a treat to visit and it helped that it was literally 3 minutes from the hotel doors.  Even getting the ticket was an easy process through a machine.

The awesome Mezquita of Cordoba

We walked around and had some tapas then ventured back on a horse drawn carriage around Cordoba. After booking a flamenco show and taking the fam back again to the hotel.  I ventured out again into the Jewish quarter in search of the Synagogue, both it and the Alcazar were closed to be explored first thing tomorrow morning.  Chilled at home (where the little demon drove us insane – too much energy jumping all over the place and acting out). We went out for more tapas as evening dinner and out to the Flamenco show which was less intense the Gypsy style Granada one, but was more professional, uplifting and choreographed giving a different flavour.  Of course the little guy was sound asleep at the show, he slept after the first 10 minutes.  The whole day he drove us nuts with his energy in the hotel and every time we go out he pretends he is tired and refuses to walk (stroller or my shoulders were his preferred methods of transport) drove me nuts!  And after all that he missed the Flamenco show.  No worries, I’m told Seville’s Flamenco will be the real thing; so hopefully he’ll be all bright eyed and ready for that one.

Tomorrow we set out to Seville; anxious about the parking and finding the hotel, as always.  But at least it will be a shorter car ride, almost half of the one between Cordoba and Granada (and between Seville and Marbella later on).  (1:24 a.m., Exe Conquistador Hotel, Cordoba)**

Hello Seville! Started off easy enough with me walking to the synagogue in Cordoba, which was smaller than I thought, and quick to go around. So on my way passed by the Bullfighting Museum which was surprisingly interesting.  I still don’t agree with the sport if you can even call it that, but got a new found appreciation for its importance to the culture; spent more time than I planned for. Made my way to the Castle of Catholic Kings; the castle itself was mediocre except for the mosaic tiles, but the gardens were lovely and fragrant.  After we packed and checked out, getting out of the garage was a bit of an event (but no new scratches thankfully) and making my way to Seville was a fairly straightforward ride.

The elegance of Seville

When we reached Seville it was another story, the typical “getting lost to find the hotel” didn’t faze me, but what was interesting is finding the “nearby” parking lot after I unloaded the luggage and the family into the hotel lobby.  I must have toured all over Seville, including a detour to a pedestrian only sidewalk which got the attention of some nice police gentlemen; they reluctantly tried to help me out after they found out I was a tourist.  At some point we made our way to an alleyway so tight I had to get my wife to get out and help me back up.  Somehow I finally managed to find the parking lot….it was stressful to say the least.  After recovering form that mess, we went for a walk to Plaza De Espana, which was a beautiful area, and the leafy green scenic route there was amazing.  Had a very overpriced dinner in our hotel terrace, but the night view of the cathedral was worth it.  The shrimp was ok except the vein was not cleaned (as is the case with most restaurants here for some reason). The salted fish was really delicious, and the brioche with rice and cinnamon cream was a different kind of treat altogether.  Tomorrow is a full exploration of Seville day – with morning solo ventures, and afternoon family adventures, then evening tapas with what is considered a very authentic Flamenco show, our third for the trip! (11:48 p.m., Vincci La Rabida Hotel, Seville)**

Things went smoothly today and all according to plan for once, had a nice morning walk to the Metro Postal and took lots of architectural photos, went back to the family. We made our way to both the Alcazar and the Cathedral.  The Alcazar was amazing and reminiscent of the Alhambra in design, while the Cathedral was very impressive in scale and details, especially the exterior.  We decided to go back and relax passing for tapas in this lovely but pricey bar near our hotel (Enrique).  Then headed out again towards the flamenco show on the other side of the cathedral, not before having quick tapas in the Cerviseria Gulido and walking through the alleyways where I found a poster for my cousin.

The flamenco show was amazing as expected, and saw some dances and combinations we didn’t see before.  Lots of breaks and started slow but ended with a nice bang!  We also passed by during the afternoon a nice Spanish version of the Virgin superstore in Dubai which was interesting.  So tomorrow the plan is to say Adios Seville (loved the city) heading to our last stay in Marbella for a week for some R &R and meeting up with some family there.  Will plan to stop for lunch tapas in Ronda along the way and going with the flow after that.  Time is flying by and the realization that the trip is half done does not sit well with me at all.  I will try to squeeze one more Sevillian landmark tomorrow morning before we had out…..I must! (10:58 p.m., Vincci La Rabida Hotel, Seville)**

Wanted to wake up early to see one more place, the fact is I already saw the main highlights and the bigger fact is I was so tired that I slept in inadvertently.  After checking out we made our way to Ronda.  The road was not a far distance but because of its scenic nature (plus it was one lane both sides) the trip was longer than it should have been.  The landscape along the way was full of rolling hills, farms, and mini towns. Some partly cloudy skies made for incredible views, unforgettable really.  Had a quick stop in Ronda, and after squeezing into what might be the last parking space in town had great tapas in this place recommended by my Lonely Planet guide.  We found our favorite tapa of Anchovies in oil (actually vinegar which made it a tad more acidic) and finally tried the roasted green peppers with coarse salt (as well as the obligatory Gazpacho and shrimp rice which was ridiculously delicious).  Enjoyed the views of the gorge which was incredible, and definitely well worth the trip.  Not as high as I imagined but much more dramatic and beautiful setting.  After taking a few stops on the mountain road to capture some of the views on camera, which can never do the real thing justice, we made our way to Marbella then Estepona for the last hotel at Playa Andaluza.  It took us an extra hour through wrong directions, not sufficient signs, and a GPS that was not cooperative at all, but we finally made it.  The little guy was great during the whole 4-hour trip (including the Ronda stop) and the DVD and phone games certainly had a major role in that.

Obsessed with Marbella’s Paellas and Churros

When we finally reached the place the hotel apartment was much bigger and even more impressive than I hoped for.  They had everything even a hand blender!  We quickly did our accumulating dirty laundry, unpacked fully, cleaned up and settled for tomorrow.  The misses cooked a delicious pasta and we relaxed the rest of the night away.  Tomorrow we grocery shop and take it easy, I’ll make use of the swimming pool and see if I can buff the car a little to minimize the scratches, not expecting much there though – yes still worrying about it. (8:16 a.m., Playa Andaluza, Estepona)**

Hadn’t written for the past couple of days since the last time, so let’s see if I can recollect. Went to Proto Banus and had Lebanese (the only non-Spanish food on this trip for me, thought I would give the wifey a break and let her have some meat), the weather was incredible and walking around the port was interesting, we even passed by a couple of bats along the way, who knew.  Fast forward to today, went to the sea in the morning, the water was freezing and the beach was rocky (a bit painful actually), but the little guy had fun.  We then set off to Marbella’s old town.  The usual “got lost on the way there” event but eventually made our destination and had a nice walk through the town, finally found churros and chocolate, and we had some authentic Paella with amazing olives.  Went to a disappointing quick supermarket trip (still not able to find car polish anywhere, what gives?) and now chilling in the resort for some R & R. (11:03 p.m., Playa Andaluza, Estepona)**

Appreciating ancient Cadiz

Today was a bit of a trip going to Cadiz (little did I know there is a short cut which I did on the way back).  Cadiz was interesting and was able to have great Tapas at El Ajiba restaurant.  Apparently it’s one of the oldest cities in Europe, going back to pre-Roman times.  Not much to see except walk around and explore, there were some random roman ruins and baths.  Managed to get some car scratch polisher from Carrefour on the way back so that was productive.  Off to Gibraltar tomorrow for our Brit fix. (12:51 p.m., Playa Andaluza, Estepona)**

Gibralatar was really fun, we had some great “British” fish and chips, and although we had an issue finding a parking near the border and paying for only 4 hours.  We went up the rock which was a bug highlight – the views were dramatic and incredible – and the Monkeys there did not disappoint.   One of them grabbed a bag of baby clothes from these tourist parents and threw out the clothes from the top of the rock all the way down.  Then we went for a quick shopping fix for the misses at La Canada mall.

The next day we made our way to our last trip and Malaga city, we finally get to see it even though we landed here.  Again finding a parking was a bit stressful but we got one eventually, had a visit to the Picasso Museum (can’t say it was awesome but interesting it sure was) his famous works were not housed there but a nice collection, despite this being his birthplace.  Then off to the Cathedral and for some Tapas, which left us a bit disappointed, especially since Malaga has a reputation for good food, the bar was high.  We walked along the waterfront park to Caille Loris – a main shopping pedestrianised boulevard.  Got some last minute souvenirs and then headed back to do the final pack up and to rest up before we check out tomorrow.

At Gibraltar’s peak

Cool and trendy, but chilled out Malaga

Not looking forward to the trip back especially since I know what’s waiting for me at work but all good things come to an end.  Great holiday here in Spain, great memories that exceeded my expectations; dream realized (9:30 p.m., Playa Andaluza, Estepona)***

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