My mum and Joan arrived on February 8 and we met them at Malaga airport. We had driven down a couple of days before to spend an evening with the lovely Jacqui and take her to the plane the next day. She was on an early flight so we left Malaga quite early. The airport is located near the Malaga IKEA so we dropped in for a cheap breakfast and an IKEA fix (but could not buy much). The afternoon was spent on the beach, walking the sandy part of Costa Mijas in the warm sunshine. We did some provisioning and settled into life on the coast.
Mum and Joan arrived safely and spent a day recovering. We had a walk around the local Saturday market and had a slow day. The next day we all jumped into our little Pew and drove down for a taste of Blighty in Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a very large rock – quite visible from Marbella (a swanky resort down the coast from Costa Mijas) about 80 kms away.
It took about 15 minutes to cross the border between Spain and Gib, with lots of Spaniards going to visit the ‘evil empire’. After our little walk about we discovered why: Gibraltar is a real duty free mecca for alcohol, tobacco, jewelry (gold and silver) and petrol/diesel. Arriving in this little bit of England was actually a reminder that there are parts of England that can be quite grotty. Lunch was eaten in a particularly grotty, worn looking pub called the Angry Friar serving terrible food with chips.
We wandered the streets of the very old town of Gibraltar, the usually UK High Street (that means downtown to Canadians) stores were there – M & S, BHS, Tesco etc. We did find a few nicer restaurants as we walked around the main squares in the town of Gibraltar dotted with palm trees and English telephone boxes, patrolled by traditionally helmeted English policemen. Gibraltar is a candle of British history in a sea of Iberian culture – great events like the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 were fought there, although I am not sure whether Spain was an ally at that time. We witnessed a protest of the Gibraltarians against the Spanish fishing fleet (sounds like a familiar story). We took a drive up to the top of the rock – having practiced driving on narrow roads in the Ablaicin, and took in the breath-taking view of the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. We drove around the Rock to Europa Point, then back to the border and Costa Mijas.
Our next tourist outing was a trip into the city of Malaga. Dating from the Phoenician period when it was an important port to these ancient traders, Malaga has grown and is now a city of 650,000 people. It was a lovely place, sophisticated, well laid out, oozing with history and culture, as well as vibrant economy. The pavements of Malaga are made of marble, clean and shining in the winter sunshine, and the old town (sin autos) is a pedestrian walking area – narrow streets with houses, shops and churches, including the baroque cathedral. Malaga has two very famous sons – Antonio Banderas –who apparently still has a house near Marbella, and Pablo Ruiz Picasso – who was born a house on a central square in 1881.
We visited two Picasso exhibitions – both were mainly about his family life, friends and relationships. Although all of his paintings are in famous galleries in the capitals of the world, Malaga had some serious ceramic work by him as well as a photographic history. Malaga also has a less than serious Semana Santa (attended, I understand, by Sr. Banderas) so we are planning to be there at the end of March.
Our trip to Malaga was quite short but pleasant – as we visited a local restaurant and toured the new port (of call for hundreds of cruise ships) and the ferry terminal. The next day we took a drive up to the village (pueblo) of Mijas – a beautiful (now touristy) village set in the hills above the coast. From the restaurant where we had coffee we could see Gibraltar and the whole Costa del Sol.
A friend had told us that we were not doing enough site-seeing (sight seeing) and had to go Rhonda. I had heard of this town before, and my mum had been on a trip to the city about 30 years before. She did not remember however that the road to Rhonda is long, climbing and very windy as it hugs the contours of the coastal hills and arrives in a town in an incredible gorge. The drive was worth it as we crossed the tall bridge across the gorge where generations of Moors and Spaniards made their mark.
Indeed one house was the family home of Pissarro – conquistador of the Americas. I also remembered that Rhonda was famous for horses.
We spent the lovely sunny afternoon slowly walking around the city enjoying the generations of history. There was an amazing Parador in Rhonda (there is one in the Alhambra), which was very inviting. A Parador is very special accommodation – a hotel chain that was set up and run by the Spanish government in the 1920’s, to encourage tourism and the exploration of Spain. Now they are pricey hotels that are uniquely Spanish (I will stay in one before leaving this lovely country). The windy road took us back to the Coast and we prepared to go up Granada.
I was dreading this return to Granada, for although living in the Albayzin maybe interesting if you are a fit 60 something, but it is a different story if you are mid 80’s and a bit breathless. The cobbles were a problem and so was the hill from the location of the car to the house. My mother was not impressed with either the walk or the house. I must agree with her and have lots of complaints. Paying €1000 per month with a €1000 deposit, and being a landlord myself, I do have some standards and sadly our accommodation is far below them. It is beyond rustic and shabby–schick, and it just plain shabby, chipped, unfinished and untidy. This a cold stone house has a spectacular view but also has old, uncomfortable furniture, broken pots all over the garden, loads of family junk hanging around in unfinished closets, and a kitchen out of 1930 that is poorly equipped (not even a toaster). The wood stove kept everyone warm, but there not enough heaters to heat every room. Lastly when we agreed to take the house, we rented a three bed roomed place but the basement was so cold (and not enough heaters) that we could not use it. So we had a two bed roomed place and still did not have enough heaters. So I am glad to move on (Rant over)
Anyway, we took Joan to the Alhambra where she marveled (in between walking, sitting, panting and being determined) to see this incredible structure the castles and the Generalife gardens. My mum stayed home for a couple of days not daring to move out of the house onto the cobbles – weather-wise it was cold and miserable so we did not venture far.
After a couple of days we packed up the car and our octogenarians and drove up to the Sierra Nevada to ski.
Surprisingly enough, it was easier for Mum and Joan to navigate their way around the alpine village of Pradollano than the Albayzin. The snow was cleared and the pathways were ice-free. We booked into a well-heated hotel near the centre of town, where we could cook and make gallons of tea, close to everything.
There were a few very up-market hotels in the village and after experiencing the skiing I understand why – it was world class. There were 23 lifts including 2 gondolas and lots of activities for children, beginners and the adventurous. We rented skis, snowboard, boots and poles for €19 (€32 for 2 days), and set out for the gondola to take us up to the hill. Unfortunately the fog had come down and the lady in the ticket booth suggested we wait until the next day (it was already 2:00 and they close at 5:00). So we decided to wait until the next day, which was a great decision. We had our gear and climbed on the gondola about 10:00 and had a glorious few hours of skiing – no line ups, a little fresh snow, groomed runs, lots of variety and sunshine.
We stayed two nights on the hill, but I did not go skiing twice – I found muscles that I did not know existed, and I had a raccoon face from the sun and goggles, but it was a wonderful day. Martin did ski another morning, but felt we had our best day on our first day.
We returned our visiting elders to Malaga airport and set them on their way. While we were down there, we found a small two-bed roomed apartment to rent, a block from the beach, and close to Martin’s cousins place in Costa Mijas. This one is only €600 per month including power and no heating bills!
Now we preparing to leave – say goodbye the neighbours – Steve and Nick, and our other neighbour – the beautiful Carrie (an American flamenco dancer). We had a little gathering and attended a concert at the full moon higher in the hills in the Albaicin. The view from up top at night was breathtaking. One of Martins pleasures in Sacromonte and the Albayzin was to walk the hills with Kerry on the cactus-covered trails up to the monasteries, through the access to the cave houses. Both man and dog shared the views and the adventures.
I am not sorry to leave Granada ( and its cold winter), although it has been quite an amazing experience stepping back in time and living in a barrio. This little fountain is just outside our house, on a main route through Sacromonte and the Albayzin.
We have lots of pedestrian and segway tours up here – tourists (including lots of Spanish) trying to get a flavour of the neighbourhood. It is quite a special feeling to be a resident in this place – one I will not forget.