Gibraltar-Ten Things that Surprised

1. We arrived and walked across the border. The bus to our hotel was the number 3 that stopped about 800 metres down the road from the border. To get there we needed to cross the airport landing strip. Look right, look left, look right again and if all clear…LOOK UP.image

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2. Saturday Night is dead in Gibraltar. There are many canons in the streets of Gibraltar. If they were fired by an intoxicated larrikin after 10 pm on a Saturday night the chances of anyone being struck are remarkably low. We went out for a meal “sorry mate we close our kitchens at 4pm on a Saturday”. We went to Gibraltars most popular pub, at 9-00pm it was shuttered.

3. The streets are charming:

4. I saw only one person dressed in a military uniform (army). Wikipedia tells me that military spending is now a small part of the economy. The main contributors to GDP are financial services, shipping, internet gambling and tourism.

5. Spirits are free of duty. A litre of gin A$8.50, astonishing.

6. We wanted to buy tonic water for our very cheap gin. The lady said “The Indian shops will all sell it”. We weren’t sure what an Indian shop was. But sure enough. We went into a number of small grocery shops and every single one had an Indian person serving who I assumed to be the owner.

7. The siege tunnels had brass band music playing as you walked through.

8. We saw no graffiti except for graffiti from the 1790s that had been preserved. No tags, no spray painted murals, nothing. It absence was rather pleasant.

9. Few young tourists. Families and middle aged people from large cruise ships. We saw no evidence of the 18-35 demographic in late June. That didn’t trouble us.

10. It was more ethnically mixed than we had expected. Particularly we saw many more Jewish, Muslim and Indians than we had expected. We were also surprised that we heard as much spanish as we heard english.

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Granada-Alhambra

Each year the Alhambra is Spain’s most visited monument. I think the word used is “monument”. Maybe “historic monument”. The word is chosen carefully to differentiate the Alhambra from Spain’s most visited “non historic monument”, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Having been picky about the carefully worded superlative, 6000 visitors a day to Alhambra can’t be wrong. They are not wrong. I think Alhambra is a magnificent palace that repays the effort to get to Granada.

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Gardens of the Generalife. Created in the 1930’s but a lovely entree to the Alhambra.

In view of the popularity of the location wise people buy a ticket online as far in advance of their visit as they can plan. Tickets going on sale three months before a visit date. 300 tickets are sold for each half hour entrance slot during the day. I am a wise fellow, but I forgot to buy my tickets…..until a few weeks before we were due to visit. I went to the web site and while I could get tickets for the day I wanted, I was restricted to non preferred times. However, this wasn’t a problem because the Alhambra web site is of such poor quality that I wasn’t able to transact. Computer said no. The official site simply rejected my efforts. I went to TripAdvisor and I was in the company of the masses. In addition to being a poorly functioning website the ticket allocation is also strange (if you are ever able to get to this point) . My understanding is that if you are able to buy a ticket you are not sent a ticket. You have bought the right to obtain a ticket and you receive an email that recognises that right. You receive instructions on how to collect a ticket in Granada that must then be validated in a metal box before it is a functioning ticket!!!! The Moors who built the Alhambra’s fancy bits in the 1300’s were technologically highly advanced. Their descendants, who designed and built the Alhambra ticketing system, have allowed themselves to be overtaken (and lapped) in the area of technological advancement.

I decided I would book a tour instead of a self guided entrance ticket (actually not many choices remaining to me). This came at a cost of Euros 45 pp including ticket, no swapping, no validating, just a meeting with a man who had a bunch of tickets in one fist and 26 names of their owners on a piece of A4 paper in his other hand. Fortunately my name was on the list. This was a brilliant decision. I got to listen to two and a half hours of history. I got to proceed through the grounds and palace in a logical guided fashion. I got nudged to the front of the 13:30 entry slot, ahead of the very noisy Italian group. I got a couple of mother in law jokes……yep he was that type of tour guide……There were good reasons not to pay him for his cabaret, but many reasons to pay him for his informative explanations of the Alhambra.

 

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All the water to the Alhambra and its inhabitants arrived via this small aqueduct.

The Moors arrived in Spain in the 700’s and started building in Granada in the 900’s. The palace is the last Arabic palace in the world of its era so is the last three dimensional example of Arabic architecture and decorative arts. The palaces were built in the 1300’s and the Sultans lived here until 1495. They then left the palace to the Christians who have done a good job of maintenance.

If I recall the statistics of the guide correctly, a direct successive line of 21 Sultans lived at the Alhambra. Twelve of those were murdered so Sultaning was a precarious occupation. But not entirely without its compensations, such as a lovely Summer palace and nice food.

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The Patio of the Lions is the popular highlight. Reflective of the Sultans preference for marble flooring, absence of flowers, lots of calming water and completely secured from those who may wish them harm of a lasting nature.

Finally, some rather delightful tiled work and the view from the Queens room:

 

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Malaga-Restaurant Jose Carlos Garcia

On Sunday we decided we would like to dine at this restaurant on the quay at the revamped Muelle Uno – Malaga’s Marina. The restaurant is closed on Sunday so we sent an email requesting a lunch table for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The restaurant chose Wednesday for us.

The restaurant called us three hours before we were due to ask if we could defer a day. We couldn’t. We were slightly concerned about what we would find when we got there. What we found was that we were the only customers, that the restaurant was being set up for a function with sound checks happening “twotwo  two ttt  two”. Directly in front of the restaurant a trade show of kitchen bench tops had appeared, and this was to be our vista! We were given a table in front of the kitchen, “chefs table” and had all the staff to ourselves.

It sounds as if it could have been awful. It was fabulous and we recommend it. The first impression was at the bizarre end of a poor first impression, but the food quality was sufficient compensation.

Two people. Two hours. Twenty one dishes. Euros 380 including a bottle of wine and tip. We both least liked the dried fish on polenta. I thought the pigeon was best, my wife thought the variety of appetisers best, and here they are:

 

 

 

I/ we recommend a visit. A few more pictures to remind us how lovely the food looked before we stabbed at it with cutlery:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Malaga-Ronda is a Day Trip from Malaga

Ronda. The largest of the white towns of Andalucia. Built next to the very deep Tajo gorge and with a most impressive bridge connecting old and new towns. It’s why we came. The poor quality of the photographs is evidence of my terror when confronted by heights. I need to keep a great distance between me and sharp descents and I am prepared to allow my artistic integrity to suffer:

 

The train to Ronda leaves Malaga station at 10:05 am and returns from Ronda at 4:50pm arriving back in Malaga at 7:00pm. The journey time is scheduled at 2 hours each way and costs about Euros 28 return.

The train had three carriages and was full. Every person on the train seemed to be a tourist. Half of them got off at Caminito del Rey. Presumably, to experience the 3 kilometre boardwalk that has been bolted to the sheer cliff face of a gorge. The people who got off the train were young and oblivious to danger. I experienced the Caminito walk through the train window, with a risk profile that aligned much more closely with my personal outlook on longevity.

Why are they called white towns you ask?

 

Yep. A lot of white. Also a lot of steep narrow streets and all very pretty. Orson Welles came here and they named a street after him. At the entrance to one of the plazas in the new town there is metal plate which quotes him saying something like ” A man is not defined by the place he was born. He is defined by the place he chooses to die”. Orson Welles died in Hollywood. He died of a heart attack so perhaps he didn’t choose to die in Hollywood. Given his quotation, I prefer to think that he chose to die in Ronda. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive sufficient notice of his impending conclusion and didn’t get back here in time. Two years after his death his ashes were brought to Ronda in a blue sack and were buried here.

Another person who liked it here, also has a street named after him, Ernest Hemingway. I thought Hemingway liked drinking and bullfighting. I’m not aware of Ronda producing fine beverages. However, it does identify itself as having one of the Worlds oldest bullrings and a proud tradition of bullfighters and bullfighting:

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One picture is of a person pretending to be a ferocious bull entering the ring. The other is a more realistic likeness of a ferocious bull placed outside the walls of the bullring. It is cast in bronze so that it causes less damage to the public than a real one might.

Ronda is a town that goes up and down. It was quite warm on the day of our visit. On the return train trip almost everyone in our carriage slept. Ronda had exhausted us. Worryingly, a few young people got on the train at Caminito del Rey. A volume of young people that was  far smaller than had descended there six hours earlier. I prefer to think that they caught the bus back!!!. I confess it was not the first explanation that came to my mind.

If you are in Malaga, and have the time, a visit to Ronda is a suggestion for the sixth day of your visit, but not higher than this. If you are visiting the other white towns, I suggest you should feel no need to follow the footsteps of Great Americans to Ronda.

 

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Malaga-Torremolinos, Better than Expected

Thirty minutes on a bus from Malaga is Torremolinos. I visited Torremolinos with prejudices that were forty five years in the making. The source of my preconceptions was the Monty Python Travel Agent sketch of 1972. In the years since 1972 I never sought an alternative point of view regarding Torremolinos. In rewatching the Monty Python sketch today I am a slightly surprised to discover that it isn’t actually about Torremolinos. I assume that I remembered Torremolinos because it is the only word in the skit that is sung, and Watneys Red Barrel, because it is repeated eight times.

I am untroubled by the intrusion of reality. I went to Torremolinos to find an authentic fish and chip lunch that I would wash down with English beer in the company of package tourists from England reddened by over exposure to a hostile sun.

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A beach shot of Torremolinos. It isn’t a fabulous beach but it isn’t bad.

How about the food and beverage selection? Further research from Wikipedia identified that Watneys Red Barrel was introduced in 1931 as a beer that was filtered and homogenised so that it could be transported long distances in kegs without losing its flavour. I have read critical assessments of the beer that suggest it was provided very limited flavour during the brewing process, so had very little flavour to lose on its journeys to far flung locations. I am too young to have any first hand memory of consuming the product. Imagine my horror as I discovered that Watneys Red Barrel had ceased to be sold as Watneys Red Barrel a full year before the Monty Python sketch was aired.

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We dined in a beachfront restaurant. I had the Dorada cooked in this kitchen over a BBQ with a plate of chips and glass of San Miguel.

We walked up the foreshore and could find no restaurant adorned with Union Jacks so we chose something that looked as if it had been in place for many years and had a beach view. I chose from the menu, as closely as I was able to the fish and chips and Watneys Red Barrel of my inspiration. My assessment of the meal is that the fish was superb, beautiful and moist (it was cooked on a BBQ per local tradition). I sheepishly admit to ordering a mixed salad as I enjoy the Meditteranean diet and pursue the svelt figure of my youth. The San Miguel was cold and I found it to be flavourless so I felt that I had chosen a successful beer proxy; excepting I restricted myself to 250mm rather than a hearty imperial measure.

The last strand of my preconceptions was that I would stand sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder with overweight, overcooked and overlooked English tourists. Again I was to be disappointed. Most tongues I heard spoke the Spanish language , then English, German and Italian in equal measure. The demographic was middle aged European couples sitting in the sun, shaded by umbrellas.

 

The buildings were unattractive. Thoughtlessly thrown up in the sixties and unable to attract maintenance expenditure during the many years that have since passed. The view from the beach, to the overdeveloped inland, is one of consistent ugliness.

Monty Python misled me. Torremolinos surprised me on the upside. I am reassessing and updating all my beliefs.

 

 

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Malaga-Picasso was born here

The articles I read about Malaga told me that it used to be a very scruffy place and a lot had been done to unscruffy it, in other words “it used to be a lot worse than it is now”. Assessing a place in degrees of worseness didn’t instil in me a feeling of eager anticipation.

Consequently, my expectations were low. My experience is that Malaga is a delight and we are very happy it was on our itinerary.

Clearly, a lot has been spent of renovating the charming old buildings in the centre of town. The centre is almost exclusively pedestrianised and feels wealthy.

As you move out from the centre there are builders skips by the side of the road and tradies vans as signs that the renovations are rippling out across town.

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Here Picasso’s birthplace is on the corner of the square with marketplace behind shiny and new. Directly behind the photographers back is a work in progress:

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The town is divided by a “river” (A dirty looking stream held in an oversized concrete sleeve). To the West is a magnificent new train station and a large project to do something to the underground system. That seems to be the start and end of the gentrification on the western side of Malaga. Architectural “pragmatism”  remains firmly in control on this side of the river.

The Muelle Uno is a walkway by the harbour/shore (back in the pretty East again)  that has been completely renovated and decorated with bronzes similar in style to those of Picasso but lower in cost:

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A rather lovely walk in the snaking shade that leads to the Pompidou Centre and new shops and restaurants and eventually a confusion of unattractive tall 1960’s concrete rectangles that cause you to say ” I’ve walked too far, I should turn around now”

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One of these people is a highly talented artist. The other is a bronze of Picasso.

The Picasso museum is the highlight of a visit to Malaga. There are over 200 of his pieces in here. They cover the chronology of his life and there are examples of many of the media in which he operated, and he was an active smarty pants (talent) in all sorts of media. Lonely Planet states that the Museums of Picasso works in Barcelona and Paris are better. I disagree. I think the Malaga museum is much better than the one in Barcelona. I’ve never visited the one in Paris, but am happy to extrapolate my assessment of “Lonely Planet, you are wrong”, pending a personal experience.

Malaga. Well worth five days of your time.

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