All posts by stradingerm@gmail.com

I've been a journalist for more than 35 years now, with very eclectic published works: health writing, food critic, drama critic, business writer, financial writer, columnist (Lunch with Marjorie, now re-posted at www.readmstradinger.com), Here & Elsewhere ( a column highlight food, travel and entertainment Here--my local area, and Elsewhere--wherever I go. I hope you will enjoy CityCites, which is a continuation of Here & Elsewhere.

Jamaica here we come…

Beaches, I must tell you right away, are not my favorite vacation spots if the trip is in summer. I love beaches. I love oceans. I love all water views. But, I am literally allegic to the sun on hot, humid days. I have what is known as polymorphic light erruption. Look it up. PMLE is a real thing.

(see http://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/polymorphic-light-eruption/)

I first discovered this condition of mine after my girlfriend Gail had visited me when we had access to a swimming pool. Gail loves the sun, can’t get enough of it, and I love Gail, so I spent many hours sitting by the pool with her, soaking in the sun. unknown

Evidently the most common seasons for PMLE are spring and summer, after winter, and before skin has had much light exposure, especially sudden intense ligh expoure.

This is all to say that maybe, knowing this about myself, February may have been the wrong time to visit Jamaica, for my sun-loving hubby, who after a long winter can’t wait to get to a beach.

I loved the idea of Jamaica. I was thrilled, in fact, to be going to see it for the first time. We had watched Anthony Bourdain’s travel story about Jamaica and the damage being done to the native people by the tourism trend, where vacationers want the all-in-one experience, which really matters little what country they are in, because they’re all pretty much alike.

So we didn’t want that. We have California or Florida for that, at way less expense. (Jamaican holidays aren’t necessarily cheap).

map_of_jamaicaSo after chatting a bit with a friend we met in St. Maarten’s, we decided to book Negril, on the west coast of the island, and far away from touristy places. We wanted to meet the people, see what the real Jamaica, without the high rises was like.

We booked into Crystal Waters, a lovely idea for having a villa with a cook. Knowing we could try out food cooked authentically was one of the main attractions for us.

We had wanted to fly in around the second week of February, but they were filled up (a good sign), so we agreed to the last of Februrary sliding into the first week of March, 2016.

Our Southwest Airlines flight to Montego Bay airport allowed us hours to work up more anticipation for our first week-long exotic beach adventure. We were excited.

images-2.jpeg We landed, and after some navigating of the bustling noisy, airport to find money exchange and the location of our shuttle to Negril, we settled into the van for the two hours it would take to get to our villa, including dropping others off at their destinations along the way.

The ride took us along the coastal road, where we could see the Caribbean most of the time, and we jutted into the resorts for the other passengers just long enough for them to disembark with their luggage.  DSCN2128.JPG

Arriving at Crystal Waters, where I thought we had established a pretty good communicaiton with Nehru, the owner, we were a little surprised that he had to go check his schedule to see who we were. Evidently most of his guests are returning customers, not first-timers.

DSCN2147.JPG   But, after confirming our status, we were warmly welcomed, and were escorted to our villa, a duplex we shared with a couple from the midwest, USA, who turned out to be mildly friendly, but definitely there to kick back on the beach and smoke their pot–a pastime we were to learn was more than common for Negril visitors (if not the rest of the island, which I cannot attest to.

images.jpegWe lost no time donning our beach clothes and making our way through the property to the Crystal Waters beach, which turned out to be next door to Margaritaville, separated only by a fence, and a gaggle of drug dealers and their steady customers.  We saw them disappear from time to time, and asked a local about that. He told us they get arrested, but then they come back because they have to sell some stuff to pay for their bail bonds. We were learning. While we in our country are voting on referendums, this island, and I suspect many islands are welcoming the potheads without hassles. It is very, very available.

images-1.jpeg Our first day, concluded with ordering a whole red snapper fish for the next day’s meal, finding that we would have our breakfast prepared whenever our cook, Denice saw our front door ajar, and that our grocery order would be delivered the next day–paid in advance, in Jamaican dollars, because one Jamaican dollar cost us about $.77 plus the exchange rate, which we found out later is not a good rate at the airport.

Unknown-1.jpeg   We lounged on the beach some more, and turned in for the night, with me, resisting complaints that it was already very hot, and very humid. And, I wasn’t wanting to turn on the air conditioner, since going in and out of air conditioning isn’t usually a good idea either. But, I kept eyeing hubby who was in beach heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 10

Happy Anniversary to us!

Time to return home. But, this anniversary trip will be a second honeymoon to remember for the rest of our lives.

We learned to take the train after Mijas, so we dragged our suitcases the mile or so from Carlos V Hotel to the train station, and arrived at Malaga Airport for our trip back to Dublin–we skipped the Guiness this leg–and then Boston, without a hitch.  No wild taxi rides this time. They are so nice and so helpful everywhere here.

We said goodbye as the train pulled out, and enjoyed Aer Lingus hospitality again, and this also had no stress. Of all the air trips we have taken, Aer Lingus made a very good impression.  Unknown-1europe_map

Our return trip from Boston was again on the perk of the Avis one-way rental, and back at Windsor Locks,

we felt we had truly been blessed to have had this amazing European vacation, especially on our 34th wedding anniversary. I guess it’s back to Jamestown, R.I. next year–but that too is sweet.

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 9

We had pre-booked two tours before leaving the States. The first one was a Hop on Hop Off double-decker bus. We had done this in Montreal and thought it was indispensable for getting to know a city.

Unknown-1Unknown  In Malaga, however, it almost became an interruption, partly because the main part of the city is so walkable a car would be a bother, and the city tour on Hop On, Hop Off, is largely unnecessary for the visit. However, once we found the right HOHO bus stop–a challenge which wasted a whole two hours, we boarded, got a circling tour of even the non-walkable areas up in the hills, and were actually quite pleased to see a part of the city we would have missed–not that any of that part was a part we needed to do anything other than view it. The tour is narrated, and that is also nice, and we got some good pictures. And, you can literally hop on and off, so the length and destinations are completely up to you. For around $20 pp, it is a very good deal. In Montreal, it saved us many hassles and dollars finding parking etc. In Malaga, this was less important, as I said, since we could walk to almost everything we wanted to see–cathedrals, markets, tapas, architecture, so it was more of a city overview this time. Had we gone to the Picasso museums, we may have used our HOHO to get around to them. We ran out of time for that. Another reason to re-visit. You really can’t get too much of Malaga.    Unknown-3Unknown-2

The second tour will always been our most memorable day in Malaga–the cooking class put on by Spain Food Sherpas.

IMG_2656
Simone

Our guide, Simone, not from Spain, but quite knowledgeable, met us at the designated start point, and our first stop was the farmer’s market, Mercado Central Atarasanas, right in the main part of town by the beach.  The architecture of this place alone is worth the trip.IMG_2680

All I can say about this Mercado, is WOW! There wasn’t anything there I wouldn’t have shopped for if I had had our condo kitchen back at Los Amigos, but alas, we were in Carlos V hotel, a tiny little room without any refrigerator or microwave. But here is one of the most colorful and tempting booths–believe it or not LARD–flavored for any sauces or soups you may want to make. We so wished this were our hometown.  IMG_2661

After picking up a few things for our cooking class, we were whisked back to the Sherpa venue, to be instructed in making some tapas dishes–among which was the Spanish tortilla–a frittata-like egg dish with potatoes and veggies. Hunky

IMG_2699 Hubby did the honors, learned how to make this wonderful food, and has since been showing it off to almost any Sunday guests we have back at the river house. Good investment! The other tapas foods were olives, ham, bread, and some of the fruit from our farmer’s market excursion.

The Spanish-speaking chef did not speak English, but J managed to get the instructions right, and all turned out very well. We then went to table to enjoyed enormously.

Spain Food Sherpas at Plaza de la Merced, offers more than one type of cooking class, and I imagine we will sample another one next time we visit Costa del Sol. staticmap

We return to Boston on Day 10, and expect to live on these memories until the next time we are blessed to visit Spain.

SUNNY SPAIN – November and December

Day 8 – Malaga

We were up early on this Thursday morning to check out of Los Amigos Beach Club, with some regret, because we enjoyed this resort much more than we had expeted.  2316316_125_z

DSCN1911   Not only did we make friends, but we walked to the beach, had good food available close by, and Mijas is so centrally located along the Coast del Sol that we could walk or ride almost anywhere in a 2 hour radius–which we did for Ronda, Granada, La Calla, and Fuengirola, which gets you to Malaga by train.   area_map_costa_del_sol

In fact, this day’s journey was exactly that. Thanks to new friend Ivon, we had a town car ride with him to the train station, instead of the wild taxi ride we had getting to Mijas. Believe me, that was a great relief.

We said our tata’s to our British friends Ken and Marjorie, Gordon and Edna, and then found Ivon.  images

We got the train, had a lot of help from the locals and station personnel figuring out how to buy a ticket, and which train to catch.

We arrived in Malaga, and decided to walk the mile to our hotel, partly so we could get an idea of the terrain and how to navigate our two days in the city.

Unknown-1 We arrived at the hotel, Carols V (which I had said to Elton, as we checked out at Los Amigos as Carlos “V.” He replied, graciously, “I think it is Carlos the Roman Numeral Five–you know Charles V, ” the Holy Roman Emperor in the 16th Century.” We had a good laugh. I guess I am forgetting my Latin I and II.

The Carlos V in Malaga isn’t a luxury hotel, but the price was right–and we were only sleep there two nights, expected to be out and about most of the day, so it was really just fine.  Unknown-2

We were bent on tapas for supper, and had it early since our late breakfast at the condo of everything left in the fridge that we didn’t give away, was plenty to tide us over till 4p.m.     IMG_2600

Seated at our al fresco cafe, we people-watched, enjoying the balmy afternoon, and then dined on lovely Serrano ham, olives, cheese, potatoes, roasted peppers, bread and wine. Oh life on the Mediterranean. You could get used to this.  IMG_2611

We had booked a Hop On, Hope Off trolley tour, but had trouble finding the right station. On foot, we traversed quite a bit of the city, and only after a couple of hours realized we were out oftime for the day, because it was almost twilight this December evening.  We had hoped to use the transportation to get around, especially since we had scheduled a tapas workshop on Friday.city-sightseeing-malaga-hop-on-hop-off-tour-in-malaga-138384

As it turned out, we didn’t need much transportation other than our feet. Almost everything in Malaga’s main district is walking distance. And, as in so many city areas of Europe, if you stop off for a gelato or a cappucino or some refreshment, you can do miles with little effort.

IMG_2637  As evening grew, we wandered into the mall near our hotel, and discovered it was the day the Christmas lights would be lit. Shoppers were clustered waiting, and then a collective ahh went up when the lights came on.

Shopping here was a congregation of little shops and posh department stores like Massimo Dutti, where we found accessories–a belt and purse that will give us sweet memories of this trip.   IMG_2628

We had a great time finding gifts for the kids and grands, and a couple of totes for us at the little kiosks in the mall, where everyone was so friendly and helpful.

We headed back to Carlos V for the night, happy to rest up for our full day Friday.

 

 

 

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

LA1_resort-header-01_0Day 7 – Back in Mijas.

We took a break, knowing it would be our last day in Mijas and with our new British friends at Los Amigos Beach Club.

We had a paella lesson in the community room, and also learned how to make sangria. The resort had a new person teaching, so the crowd had to interact, and some of them had done this before. Great fun.  IMG_0074

Our poolside condo was the perfect location, and strangely quiet–but then it was December. Not a lot of swimming going on.

We relaxed, enjoyed our afternoon, tried to eat up all of the things in the fridge and gave away the rest.

In the evening, our friends Ken and Marjorie invited us to their condo for a party, and there the rest of our new acquaintences were gathered. It’s amazing how a good hostess can provide the perfect appetizers with just bread and condiments and some other yummies, but Marjorie had done this before.   Unknown-3

On our dinnertime the day before, we had shared our table with Ivon, and he offered,  now, to drive us to the train on Thursday for our excursion to Malaga. He had his car, having driven through France to Mijas.

images

We got a picture of just how homey this place was to these English and Scottish friends. They thought nothing of driving to Spain, as we would feel traveling through States to a holiday.

UnknownWe had a great time, went back to our condo to pack for our last leg of the trip, and then watched BBC till we were sleepy.

All good.

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 6 – La Cala Mijas

Day 6 was a time to kick back a little and see more of the local area. We felt the need to walk, and found La Cala Mijas was about an hour or less from our resort, and worth the walk along the Mediterranean where the view was never hidden.   Coastal-pathway-La-Cala-de-Mijas

We had to navigate along the busy highway’s bridge which paralleled the road, and the traffic was loud and scary at times, but we kept the Sea in sight, so had a good trade-off.  Besides, we knew the distance was possible, and the day was cool and pleasant, about 75 degrees F. on the first day of December.  We weren’t sure whether it was the Spaniards or the tourists who didn’t walk everywhere, but in Mijas, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of foot traffic. In any case, we enjoyed our walk, even though the road roar made it a little difficult to chat as we walked.   Unknown-4

We started out around noon and found it a pleasant mid-70 degrees F. on this Tuesday, December, 1.
When we arrived, we were delighted to find a navigable town with restaurants and expansive beach areas with tables for dining al fresco from El Torreon, the large white beach restaurant we decided on.  Unknown-3

We ordered seafood, of course, at El Torreon, and we leisurely dined with the Mediterranean as our companion. The food was delicious. The whole scene reminded us of Santa Monica, and we felt at home there, almost as though we had always known it.

Unknown-2 It doesn’t get better than having lunch on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea, and strolling through the beach town, with no worries of parking cars, being lost, or dodging children begging for coins. (There was absolutely none of this in Spain.)

After lunch, we strolled around the small town, and enjoyed the freedom of a new place in walking distance to our “home away from home.”

By around 3:30pm. we decided to get to the bridge to walk before any chance of a rush hour, since we didn’t really know much about traffic patterns along the highway.

733987_175558075926207_1560753296_nReturning to Los Amigos, we changed for dinner, and wandered back to the Indian restaurant, Punjab Palace, which we knew we liked, and feeling like this couple of blocks of walking was nothing.   We weren’t about to start exploring new food on this walkabout day.nearby-restaurants

BBC provided our evening’s entertainment, and we also said hi to our British neighbors, who invited us to their party the next day, which we accepted, especially since we planned on leaving Thursday, cutting our time share stay short, to go to Malaga for two days before flying back to Boston.

It was a breezy delightful day by the Sea, and we knew we could get used to this very easily.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 5 – Granada and The Alhambra

Our second tour, on Monday, November 30 began at the bus stop on the Los Amigos Beach Club property, and we boarded around 8:30 a.m.m, which for Spanairds is early.

Alpujarra Mountains   The windy roads up to mountainous area weren’t too bad, the mountains beautiful, and our excitement at going to see the famous Alhambra took over, even with the hour and a half bus ride.

We had seen Anthony Bourdain’s travel show on Granada, where he featured Alhambra, but also the plethora of tapas eateries and their generous free tapas with drinks offerings (which on a bus tour, we did not have time to find). But, the main event was Alhambra, so we stayed focused. After all, tapas is available throughout Spain, so no problem.

We arrived at Alhambra around 10a.m. and were greeted by a guide who conferred with our bus tour guide to take one of our divided parties to the venue. It is good to have a tour, especially to have tickets and no-line entrance, so we were grateful that we had an easy transition to the majestic buildings and gardens.   DSCN2067

DSCN2053We began in the gardens, and oh they are wonderful.

The garden designs and groundskeeping are breathtaking, even in November, and the pathways, gates, fountains, and plantings, have been placed where tourists can get beautiful views and pictures.

This “red fort” was built to be a city within a city, with fortresses, towers, and walls to protect and defend its royal inhabitants.

The first three palaces were built for Muslim royalty (Comares, Palace of the Lions (builit by Mohammad V, and Paertal Palace, and then a fourth was added for Carolos V.

DSCN2047DSCN2055After the gardens, there was the architecture of the Alhambra itself, a mix of 14th Century Medieval 39d4241154038bb69fbb64b517a8310a30044da7Islamic and Christian palatial art, architecture.

There is no way to show in mere pictures, the grandeur of these palaces, their arches, ceilings, doors, and floors, not to mention the sculptures.

Our education from Bourdain’s travel piece had us on the lookout for the geometric designs that overwhelm in person, and cannot really be captured here. The tiles and archways alone are amazing:

Consider the Palace of Lions, famous for its twelve lions with fountains that were engineered with hydraulic systems. Jim Gordon’s photo captures the beauty of the chamber where guests had trouble moving on to other areas.  c127c50985a8847bd72ce7ad6692de930799df4a-1Another magnificent area is the entrance to the Muqarnas Chamber, with photo credit here to Vaughn Williams.  904f4e6c900fab444209c49f34afe7ff0ef35900

You can read, you can see travel programs, you can take pictures, but you cannot believe how different it is to see in person.  Really this is a wonder to be on the short list for places you have to see.

We left Alhambra on our bus and ventured into the city of Granada, where we decided to leave the group and find tapas on our own. We found a dimly lit bistro where we ordered oxtail tapas, as my husband had in Ronda. I didn’t repeat my fried sardines, willing to try the oxtail, which was delicious.

After lunch we sauntered over to the department store, near where we would catch the bus, and in a hurried shopping time, selected leather purses and a shirt to remind us of Granada.

We got to our bus in plenty of time and enjoyed our memories as we returned to Los Amigos Beach Club.

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 4 – New friends

We awoke Sunday, December 3, and made our breakfast of Spanish ham, eggs, toast and apricot jam, all available at our very satisfactory grocery on the premises of Los Amigos Beach Club. Since our condo had a full kitchen, there was no problem making our own breakfast, and this was delicious.     Unknown

los-amigos-beach-club

After breakfast, we  wandered out to the patio and the pool area, and even though the mid-60 degree F temp was pleasant, no one was  going to go swimming. We did find our neighbors sunning themselves on their patio.

exterior-view We were planning to sit on the chaises farther away from them, since we didn’t want to intrude, but they struck up a conversation and seemed to want to engage.

Soon Gordon and Edna from Scotland, and Ken and Marjorie from England, were warmly letting us know we were going to be chatting for some time, so we pulled our chaises to face them, and happily got to know them better.

It seems, that even though we had visions of meeting a lot of Spanish people, we were destined to be connected more with the Brits, who had vacationed here for many years.

They had a lot of stories to tell us, and most of them were of England and Scotland, not of Andelucia.   europe_map

We didn’t get the feeling they were planning to do the tours we had planned, and their whole demeanor was that Los Amigos was kind of a home away from home, which was familiar and comfy. In fact, they were amazed that we had made the journey for a 10 day stint, rather than the fortnight they regularly scheduled.

Ivon passed by and said hello, and he seemed to be part of the group as well. His condo was across the path from ours.
We stayed until lunch time, and decided to do some exploring, since our British friends and hinted that there were other eateries beyond Farro Playa across the street, and besides, as I said, Farro Playa had closed December 1, so we thought we had better find new adventures in eating.   There was a small cafe on the Los Amigos grounds, but it seemed to be ordinary food, and we wanted local color (or colour).

nearby-restaurantsWhat we found was a little strip mall in walking distance from the condos, with a couple of Spanish food restarants and the Punjab Indian restaurant, plus a convenience store with trinkets, water, T-shirts, etc., and other goods.

We were thrilled we could reach this little mall on foot, and knew then that we wouldn’t be needing a car, or be stuck with hamburgers at our grounds cafe.

We dined on the terrace on Indian food at the Punjab, and found the lamb and vegetarian dishes lovely and affordable.

DSCN1927We had enough leftovers to have an adequate supper with some crackers and cheese appetizers from the Los Amigos grocery. Oh, and I forgot to mention the delicious white wine.  We are not finished experiencing Spanish wines, but this adventure will have to wait till our next visit because we didn’t have enough information for this trip.

Refecting back on this day, I realize there is nothing pressuring us to find the exotic every day. We so enjoyed finding out that we could feel at home in Mijas, and that our planned touring didn’t need to be a frantic daily event. Unknown-1

 

We walked back to the condo, put on beach shoes, and headed back across the street for an evening walk along the Sea. We could get used to this.  Sunset on the Mediterranean in Milas

 

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 3 – A side tour to Ronda and Marbella

We pre-booked a tour to Granada to see the Alhambra, and decided that would be Monday’s excursion. But after talking to Irene at the front desk yesterday, we decided on two more tours–one to Ronda in the mountains and one to Gibraltar.   map_of_andalucia

We considered also going to Tangiers, but after reading the reviews on experiences others had there, we decided to forget battling vendors and being accosted for Euros and coins, and thought we could do this on a return trip if we wanted to chance it.

So today, our trip to Ronda started at a congenial 8:30 a.m. bus stop in Mijas, on our timeshare premises, and we boarded thinking this was a completely spontaneous trip that we knew nothing about.

The mountain top city has deep historic routes, and the tour promised a visit to a bull ring, its museum, some wine tasting, beautiful vistas and historic architecture.

But, before we even thought about what we would find in Ronda, we were rambling through the coastal city of Marbella, where we would stop for a more leisurely visit on the way back.

Leaving Marbella, we took in the rocky road, curving highway and moderate climb to the 2400 ft. elevation of our destination.

About midway on the roughly hour and a half ride, we stopped at a tourist respite for a bathroom break and a chance for pastry and coffee, which was an efficient operation where coffee was delivered buffet-style, in cups for black espresso and in glassware for our cafe con crema. I didn’t want to eat too much because I was still a bit unsure how well I would do if the mountain got steeper and the road curvier. But, I did opt for a flaky breakfast pastry in the end, and all was well on the rest of the ride.

We first got our bearings when the bus left us off at a terminal, and we saw that a walk through the city wouldn’t be too daunting or mysterious, and we could probably find our way back. We decided, at first, to stay close to the tour guide, but he was not very engaged, and we were a bit disappointed.  DSCN1946 (1)

What we did not expect, was making new friends, originally from Iraq, and who now lived in England. N and L were doctors, who had fled Iraq rather than fight with those who would eventually ransack their towns, dig up graves of their ancestors, and make it impossible to return. This couple were gentle of spirit and had a deep faith in Jesus. They were surprised we shared their faith, as they had wondered if any Americans were thinking of end times and being prepared for what they believe will surely continue to be an upheaval for Christians and Jews. They were encouraged that we shared their faith and their concerns.

We continued the guided part of the tour, seeing the bull ring, which was built in a Neoclassical architecture in the late 18th century,  and the museum,   DSCN1969 (1)         DSCN1962 (6)             DSCN2002 (1)

and hearing about how integral bullfighting is the the Spaniards and how revered the matadors are. The museum reflected that from the costumes, even an Armani designed matador costume, to the trophies and art. Entering the bull ring itself, there was an echo of times past and present in the air.   DSCN1959

As we traveled to the gorge area to look down on the El Tajo River, we were given a history of the area.  IMG_2326

Originally settled by the Celts in the 6th century, Ronda was part of the Roman Empire, and by the 15th century was dominated by the Islamic peoples, until conquered and deported by Christians around the time of the Spanish Inquisition. You can feel, from the guides telling of the story, that Christians aren’t the “good guys” in the minds of the Ronda conquered Spaniards, and the Christian influx into a city which had roots in Islamic architecture, thinking and people, was not welcome.  IMG_2312 (1)

Ronda, like many areas of Spain, has a mix of Islamic and Christian influence, and the roots for both go deeply into everything from its buildings to its culture and food. Unlike many of Europe’s cultures, Spain is a heady combination of so many extremes, it is impossible to take it all in in one visit.

There are three bridges in Ronda: Puente Romano (or Puenta San Miguel), Puente Viejo which is the old bridge or sometimes known as the Arab bridge and Puente Nuevo, which is the tallest, almost 400 ft. and overlooks the Tajos canyon, where some stories tell of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, featuring Spanish Nationalist militants being thrown over Ronda’s cliffs during the Spanish Civil War.  bridge-over-the-gorge-photo_14903772-770tall (2)

 

 

 

 

Unknown I suppose if we imagined ourselves in the Old West of America on a visit to a ghost town, or maybe a steamboat ride somewhere on the Mississippi, or even some of the Spanish missions in Texas, California, or New Mexico, we could get the rush of feeling you get when whoosed from the present back into these times, but really, we have nothing that feels centuries old, except the Rocky Mountains and the Sequoias.

But, it is hard to convey the extreme parting from the present one feels when enveloped in ancient history, surrounded by so much foreign information all at once.

We left the group to find a tapas lunch in town, and then strolled a bit by the bridges again, and talked to N and L about their journey.

When it was time to head back to Marbella and Mijas, we were so glad this was a tour we had booked.

In Marbella, we learned that this coastal resort in the Sierra Blanc is home or second home to many rich and famous, including the King of Saudi Arabia.
Unknown

On our return to Marbella, we rushed through the city trying to keep up with the tour guide, while detouring to get some gelato, and peeking into shops, then trying to find our group again so we wouldn’t be left behind for the bus ride back to Mijas

We arrived back at Los Amigos Beach Club, feeling overwhelmed and happy that we had entered into history with such magnificent sights.

Sunny Spain – November and December

Day 2 – Arriving in  Malaga for a wild ride to Mijas

Our flight to Malaga from Dublin was interesting for me, because my seat mate was Irish and I got a lot of insight into my lack of geographic smarts about her island.

Unknown

For one thing, I guess I always imagined Ireland being on the east side of England. It isn’t. This becomes interesting when you realize that the Brits like to vacation in sunny spots during their winter, just like we Americans do.  europe_map

But, the English have more choice of how to get to places like Costa del Sol, and because they are so close to land, they often drive through France to Spain, rather than flying. So, then they have a car with them. More about that later.

My Irish plane friend was flying to Malaga to be with her family for a holiday, which, evidently, they did regularly, since they actually had a vacation home in Malaga. That gave me some thoughts for the future.  Unknown

The flight from Dublin to Malaga was short, a little less than three hours, so I could see why this would be a regular plan for the Irish to escape the dreary chill of winter. I mean, it’s similar to how I feel going  from Hartford to Chicago (except without sunshine at the other end), which I do twice a year without a second thought. My bus ride from Chicago to Rockford is almost as long as the flight from Hartford.

On this Thursday in November, my hubby and I were traveling on Thanksgiving, which my Irish friend didn’t have to contend with. So I could see how this was not a big deal for her. We had left on Wednesday on a red eye to Dublin, so we ended up having a carefree transport on what would have been the busiest travel day of the year in the States. No such thing in Dublin in November.

In any case, we arrived without incident at the Malaga Airport, and our lovely concierge at our time share, Los Amigos Beach Club, had arranged for a taxi to meet us to take us the 30 minutes to ourMijas condos.

UnknownOur driver was waiting, waving a sign with our name on it–just like in the movies. I had never experienced this kind of a reception, and it took some of the anxiety out of being in a foreign country without knowing much of their language. No worries, most of the vendors and business people in Spain speak good English. As I have pointed out, it seems the short distance to Great Britain is just as appealing for the Spaniards, many of whom have been educated in England, and know its culture well.

We followed our somewhat reticent cab driver to his car, threw in our bags and seated ourselves, including belts. Good thing. This was the end of the carefree transport for this day. The wild ride through Malaga to Fuengirola and parts westward was terrifying.

Even my racer husband had a little concern. This driver seemed less familiar with the route we were taking than probably his normal fares, and he drove with jerks and sharp turns that kept us thankful we were in the back seat, and not the “death seat” beside him.    2316316_127_z

Finally, we arrived at Los Amigos Beach Club, and then another problem arose. We wanted to use our credit card, but he wanted cash. We had not exchanged dollars for Euros yet, and his 50 Euro fee was not something we wanted to do in dollars. We handed him our Visa Card and insisted. He reluctantly took out his credit card machine, but became very agitated when we did not have a PIN number. We had the chip card, but it was not an updated version that required a pin.   Unknown

The driver spoke  little English when it came to financial concerns, and we had no way to explain. Thankfully, the Los Amigos manager, Elton, was at the desk, and fluently explained why our card had to be used the old-fashioned way and not with the front insert devicethe new cards use.Unknown-1

We paid the driver, all was well, and we learned that tipping is not customary in Spain for taxis, hotels, restaurants or other services. They just don’t do it, except on rare occasions when a tour guide or service is so outstanding, a thank you is just in order. Given that we were losing about $15 on the $100 with the exchange rate, it worked out well that we saved that 15% in tipping, so we balanced out.

2316316_125_z   Once all the financials were settled, we were greeted by our concierge, Irene, with a hearty “Welcome home!,” which really did make us feel at home, right away.

It was about 3:00pm and after unpacking, we were anxious to cross the street (320 yards) and walk on the beach–the Mediterranean at Faro (lighthouse) Playa (beach) in Mijas. This was going to be the only 70 degree F day of our 10 day trip, so we wanted to make sure we got to the beach.  DSCN1908

The beauty of the Sea is breathtaking, but this, in November, was not the beach we had imagined. No one was sunbathing, and really, the narrow beach wasn’t a sunbathing haven, probably even in summer.

We had our walk, enjoyed being in light jacket weather in November, and were thankful, even without, bathing temps. We picked up small rocks on the very rocky sand, imagined giving them to grandchildren, and generally unwound from our crazy cab ride. The beach is narrow, and we enjoyed seeing the lighthouse around a hilly area.

DSCN1911What we did discover was a lovely seaside restaurant, Faro Playa, which also means lighthouse beach, where we decided to have dinner.      DSCN1921DSCN1909
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After changing to dinner clothes back at the very luxurious condo, we walked back across the highway and didn’t need reservations to be seated on the patio with the lovely view. We saw that this restaurant was closing December 1, like so many businesses do for the winter on the Costa del Sol, so we wanted to eat here for the few days we had until then, since it was the only place we knew (at the time) in walking distance to Los Amigos.

We ordered fresh sea bream (dorado), a whole fish prepared beautifully, but with bones. The small side salad and fried potatoes were ordinary. The experience was muy bueno! Not great, but well done, and with the terrace view, who can complain? The swordfish also looked good, which we decided to try another time.

restaurante-faro-playa     restaurante-faro-playa-1

On another night, we ordered the pork filet in pepper sauce, also with the side of peas and carrots and fries, and it was also tasty, and really a little more expertly done than the fish. We learned to order this dish from our British friends, who seemed to favor this and ordered it as fil-let, not fil-lay–but then, you haven’t met them yet.

DSCN1918 We walked a little more on the shore after dinner, taking in the beauty of the Mediterranean and counting our blessings.

Walking back to Los Amigos, discovering the tunnel route, rather than the highway above ground crosswalk, we felt we could get used to this.

We visited Irene, at the front desk, exchanged $100 for 85 Euro, then retired early to a comfy bed, since this had been a long day. 16446682

We watched television a little, which gave us a chuckle, since all of the English shows were BBC. We took in a couple of British cooking episodes, and then slept well.