Pandemic travels : Andalusia July 2021

My first morning was spent wandering the halls of MediaMarkt beside the train station trying to locate a plug adapter for my phone charger. Once purchased I headed over to the bus station where I bought a ticket to the Cuevas de Nerja – a sprawling underground network of caves with a natural amphitheatre about an hour from Malaga, and one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations. My entrance time wasn’t until 14.30 so I repaired to a cafe to escape the blistering 37 degree heat. Lunch was fried sardines. Upon entrance to the caves I realised that the microclimate meant that the temperature was a consistent 20 degrees. What joy. The caves were impressive – vast and cavernous. After an hour underground I emerged to over ground and fled to the village of Nerja where under a canopy, I drank a beer while I waited for a bus back to Malaga.

Cuevas de Nerja

That evening I went to the Pier where the weather had dropped to a balmy 35 degrees. Sitting by a seafront restaurant, I got to listening. Before my ears had honed in on their precise conversation, I knew they were Irish. The farmers’ tans on their sunburned skin (the skin that had not seen the sun remained a translucent blue) along with the burger and pint gave it away. My own farmer’s tan tingled in empathetic pain. They were talking GAA. I sipped a cava.

Alcazaba Gardens

The following day my intention was to stay in town and explore the historical areas. I set off at 10am and I climbed the Gibralfaro mountain in blazing 40 degree heat to see the castle – the Castillo de Gibralfaro which overlooks the city. I did not find this castle either enchanting or magical by the time I reached the summit. I was instead a little pink ball of perspiring rage. Again this is my own fault. Did I really expect to enjoy climbing a mountain under the blazing summer heat? I regrouped with an iced water in the castle cafe before proceeding. Having cooled down I was very impressed with the grand dimensions of the fortress. Descending the hill was easier.

At the base I visited the Alcazaba de Malaga Citadel and the Malaga Roman Theatre outside it. I followed this by a trip to the Picasso Museum and finally the sensationally gaudy Malaga Cathedral. I had tapas for dinner in Casa Lola – a place recommended by a friend. The waitstaff didn’t have assigned tables – they zipped about taking orders and delivering food and drinks at breakneck speed. I was not sure exactly what I ate as I picked three random items without translating. Tasty guesses.

Nasrid Palace, Alhambra, Granada

The following morning I continued my travels heading inland, two hours north, to the ancient city of Granada. My apartment in the new town was very central. On my first evening I climbed the hill along the narrow cobbled laneways, to the Mirador de San Nicolas viewing point across the valley from the Alhambra Palace . As I stood at the top of the church tower, gazing across the valley at the Alhambra, listening to the flamenco band in the square down below, I got to thinking ‘Last night I dreamt of San Pedro. It all seems like yesterday, not far away.’

For supper I ate tapas at a local cafe, served by a teenaged waiter who kept asking me about life in America. I answered as truthfully as I could. Never having lived in American I am not sure how accurate my responses were.

The following morning I had an appointment at the Arabic hammam. In my delirium from the heat I forgot my swimwear. Being a resourceful chap I improvised by wearing my shorts as swimwear. The hammam is 500 years old. The massage was very relaxing. My shorts were dry again after 15 minutes outdoors. Following a coffee in a cafe where the Brazilian waiter was complaining about Spanish customers, I climbed a mountain to the Sacromonte district where I visited the Museum of Sacromonte Caves – inhabited by Gypsies until the mid 20th century. A fascinating area and the birthplace of flamenco. In town later that day I visited the Royal Chapel where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were buried, as well as the cathedral , followed by the Alcaiceria Arabic spice market.

After a pleasant day, jam-packed with culture I went back to my little flat to recuperate. As the next day was last one in Granada, I decided I would go out with a flourish and book a ticket to see a flamenco show. I then discovered a highly rated tapas bar was located ten minutes away from my flat. I was seated and ordered just as the hordes descended on the place. I felt smug as I dined. After a leisurely meal and a few beers I asked for the bill, which was brought quickly. I was hogging a table for 2 and the hungry of Granada wanted it. Hell’s bells. My wallet with all my bank cards was missing – left beside my laptop when I’d booked the flamenco show. I tried to explain my predicament to the waiter whose English was on a par with my Spanish. Thank the stars for friendly and efficient Germans. Hans (not his real name – although who knows, maybe it is) had learned Spanish at school, explained my situation and told the waiter I would be back in 10 minutes with my card. Which I was.

Museo de Sacromonte

I had a ticket to visit the Alhambra the next day. This is the palace and fortress complex for which Granada is best known. The complex was begun in 1238 by the Emir of Nasrid. It is built on the Sabika hill. It’s quite a sensational place – vast, imposing, stunning. A memorable experience. It is a monument I want to revisit. That night I attended the flamenco show – a suitably dramatic end to my stay in Granada.

On the bus back to Malaga the next day I was sitting in front of a couple having an argument in English. They were a new couple. His ex had invited him out for a drink. She had told him to go ahead. So he went. She was now raging with him. He asked her why she said it was ok to meet his ex if in fact it wasn’t. Then he told her that she drank too much, while he is a teetotaller. She replied to tell him he was judgemental and controlling. He said her drinking gave her a dark energy. She answered that she drank for fun. I internally predicted a breakup.

Flamenco

My final night was in a grand old house on a hill without air-conditioning. My night’s sleep was poor. On my last day I took the train to Torremolinos. I had experienced rich Spanish culture. Now I needed industrial style tourism for which Spain is also famous. It was in fact a very pleasant town.

Torremolinos

My flight home was almost thwarted. The previous year during my pandemic travels, you had to fill out the required passenger locator form upon arrival back in Dublin airport. I assumed it would be the same this time. However It was no longer the case. You now had to fill out the form online in advance. My fault. I should have checked. I had a leisurely sandwich and strolled to the gate for final call to be told I couldn’t board. In a race against the clock followed by a sprint to the plane, I arrived as they were closing the door. I was sweating buckets.

Adios Espana. An amazing trip despite my lack of planning.

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