Formally Al-Andalus, during the rule of the Moors (800 years or so), but now known as the sultry southern autonomous community of ANDALUCÍA, where the weather heats up and the Spanish accent changes dramatically, an unexpected invitation AL SUR (to the South) was extended. I boarded a bus in Madrid on New Year’s Eve with destination to Málaga, gorgeous coastal city in the very South of Spain where I was to continue my holiday. On a clear day from the beaches in Málaga, you can look out to the ocean and see the continent of Africa, that’s how far south I was headed. While on that bus ride I could already smell the salt in the air and imagine walking around in a T-shirt. **fingers crossed
New Year’s Eve for the Spanish is called La Noche Vieja, and it is celebrated like in many other parts of the world, among family and friends with COMIDA RICA Y VINO . . . y UVAS. UVAS? Yes, in this case, with Grapes (I’ll come back to this). After resting a bit, I showered and got semi-dolled up for the evening. This entailed wearing a dress and brushing my hair; I cleaned up nice. Since I was to be among Spanish men in suits and ties, it was the least I could do. We ate delicious OLIVOS, JAMON IBÉRICO sliced thinly to perfection, and seafood too, big shrimp/prawns (I don’t know the difference). Accompanied with the VINO of your choice, I stuck to Albariño (a white wine), the night flowed nicely and before we knew it, the Spanish Ball was going to drop.
In Madrid, in the Puerta del Sol they hold a New Year’s Eve countdown, where thousands gather to stuff their mouths with grapes just after the clock strikes midnight. Grapes? Yes GRAPES.
The uvas are a huge tradition in España. Each person must have 12 grapes at hand during the countdown and after the clock strikes on JANUARY 1st, you eat one grape per strike of each bell. Every few seconds a bell strikes and before you know it, 12 strikes means you have eaten 12 UVAS that represent LA BUENA SUERTE Y PROSPERIDAD for the New Year (Good Luck and Prosperity)! I was up for the task . . . I just wish I had eaten fresh grapes, since all the grapes at the house came out of a can. I didn’t even know they sold grapes in cans (12 per can, already without skin and seeds). Not yummy in the slightest, but hey, the tradition says in 2016 I SHALL HAVE LUCK ON MY SIDE for completing this task.
Followed by hugs and more hugs, and then some relaxing time, I had a very beautiful first Noche Buena en España with the Arredondo family. New Year’s day, they took me to the nearest beach to walk around for an hour or so. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the New Year of 2016 then right by the water. The sun was beaming, families were out with their kids, there was joy in the air, Contagious Joy.
Yours Truly, the Cancerian water-child, was as happy as any kid with this view, endless ocean and perfect peace.
Even got to dip my toes in the chilly waters for a few minutes. The sands in Málaga are dark brown and there is an abundance of seashells, of which I took a few as a souvenir. We couldn’t stay longer because a New Year’s Day FEAST was being prepared, and we rushed to arrive on time. The Woman of the house and chef of this meal is English (UK), so she cooked up what traditionally is made for Christmas meal in England. A huge Turkey, 3 types of RELLENOS (stuffings), baked veggies with bacon. . . excuse me while I drool just recalling how magically delicious this meal was, how mouth-watering and tantalizing. Accompanied this time with a good RIOJA (a type of Red Wine), I was in my happy place. Don’t know if you recall, but I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year having arrived in España the day before Thanksgiving, and so missing out on two Turkey dinners my family throws each year. JANE the English Masterchef of this meal was therefore my hero! MIL GRACIAS in fact to her.
Bite-sized mince pies with a Brandy Butter just took the meal over the 10 mark, now clearly an 11 or 12 out of 10, and assuring me a spot in Foodie Heaven. Food coma ensued for nearly all afterwards. I was tired, but didn’t opt for a proper Spanish Siesta, though I too was tired from all the food.
My first full day out in the city of Málaga started with a visit to La Alcazaba, ancient stronghold of the Moors. Since Spain’s history was closely tied with the Moros of Africa for centuries and centuries, castles, fortresses & temples remained for Spanish use after the Moors were expelled in the 15th century. Architecture and language in España, particularly en EL SUR, still have large Moorish influence, and many important buildings like this one are now visited and appreciated for their gorgeous details & unique design and serve as examples of an empire long past. ALCAZABA is from the Arabic al-qasbah, قصبة, meaning “citadel.” This Alcazaba is from the 11th century, and served as a fortification to the nearby castle or Gibralfaro. Built on a hill overlooking all of Málaga, the views are quite impressive as well, but of course what brings the bulk of visitors is the Moorish architecture and details; the arches, pristine patios, & symmetric and geometric designs in the ceilings, often tiled in a beautiful color scheme.
My trip here was shorter than I would have liked, spending maybe just under an hour and half exploring the grounds and taking in the views. I would recommend more time here to truly appreciate this gem. Get close to some of the many columns that were recycled from the Roman/Phoenician era before the 11th century, or simply look up and appreciate the endless stone walls.
Enjoy the gardens, patios, and many views of the ocean from the top. Today it is a bit more troublesome to look out towards the sea with so many modern buildings now blocking the bluest waters and our view of the African continent in the distance. We then made our way down the fortress, ALA lunch was next on the agenda. I do notice that this post is turning out to be 80% about food, but that’s because in ESPAÑA, the food is the culture and the culture is the food. In other words, sorry for all the food pictures, but I’m not sorry. Our next food adventure was a distinctive one, at RESTAURANTE EL TINTERO:
That guy on the restaurant’s sign holding platters in his hands, he’s the HEART AND SOUL of this place. Here’s why… You want to order something, don’t ask for a Menu. NO NEED. The waiters here walk around with cooked platters ready to place on your table, and you’ll know when they’re coming. . . because THEY ANNOUNCE THEIR GOODS. Sardines for example, or some type of baked fish flies past your table. Get them while they’re Hot! Don’t hesitate, or some other table might get the plate first. BE QUICK. Maybe you want octopus: “TENGO UN COMPAÑERO DE MESA DE 8 PATAS! OCHO PATAS!” / I have a friend for you with 8 legs! Eight legs! It is all part of the charm. They get pretty creative with their Sales Tactics. Don’t expect it to be a calm and quiet meal, because a team of 10-15 waiters hustle and shout around your table the entire time, and they have the LUNGS of TITANS. The most curious of them for me was the guy shouting “Y YO COBRO” every few minutes. He’s the one that charges at the end of the meal. It’s quite simple, he counts the number of plates, and does some math on your tablecloth, and you have your Bill faster than you could say “La cuenta por favor.” And ALA, be on your way. They could surely use the table space, busy both indoors and outdoors and seemingly no end to the number of patrons arriving to partake in the all the fun of this place. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Málaga.
I liked the feel of Málaga in the few days I spent in the city. I liked the weather, the sunsets, the cloudy moments too and the smell of ocean whenever we were walking along the beach. In Málaga, people are outdoors because they can be, with awesome weather and lots sunshine usually. I enjoyed photographing the city as the sunshine was waning. Here are some of my favorites shots from my visit.
You can’t talk about a major city without talking about the city center, and Málaga’s was bustling. Beautiful old buildings, ornate and well kept, with holiday decorations hanging throughout all the center’s streets, I enjoyed walking around. The people were shopping, eating, drinking, DISFRUTANDO DE LA VIDA, como debe ser. I would have loved to stop for a Vino or some Tapas here, but as soon as the decorations lit up at sundown, SWARMS OF PEOPLE with cameras in hand moved in to take the perfect selfie, and we opted to snap a shot or two and leave the crowds to do their work.
The tree and the tunnel-like light attraction were especially beautiful. But to be honest, the magic of Málaga for me was by the water. I hope to return soon to spend time in the water, more time on the beach, near the sardine shacks with a cold caña in hand and not a care in the world. . .