Thursday 11 February 2016

In A Rondabout Way

This was supposed to be in the middle of the previous post but it wouldn't work so Ronda gets its own post.



The next day, I made an early start and headed out to Ronda. Ronda was one of the big things I really wanted to see in the South of Spain and it did not disappoint. Ronda is steeped in history, mostly because of its impossible position. Controlled at one time by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Moors and the Spanish, the town of Ronda is perched precariously at the very top of an enormous plateau. To get a sense of scale, look at the people in the top right hand corner. Yes, there are people in picture.


Being up in the mountains, the trip there was a long one but the views made up for it.


The old town in particular is essentially an island, surrounded by sheer cliffs on all sides. There wasn't even any bridge connecting the isolated section atop the mesa to the rest of the town (obviously built on a cliff as well) until the 1700's when an enormous bridge was built across the Tajo gorge. The bridge itself is probably the biggest single draw card of the town. During the civil war, many people (including nuns) were thrown off the bridge. Fun facts. Again, look at the people standing on the bridge to get a sense of scale.


The bridge is far from Ronda's only draw, however. Ronda is one of Spain's "Pueblos blancos" or 'white towns', aptly describing the fact that all the buildings are painted white which really makes for a striking visual image (one which is difficult to capture well on my iPhone).


Being built atop an enormous cliff, Ronda also presents some truly breathtaking views out over the countryside.


There's also the Moorish gardens and water mine. When the Spanish would lay siege to Ronda towards the end of the Moorish period, the Moors would force the slaves to form a human chain to carry buckets of water up from the river at the bottom of the gorge to the townspeople above. In fact, Ronda was only captured because the Spanish discovered the water mine and prevented the Moors from accessing it.


Finally, Ronda is the spiritual home of bullfighting in Spain. Regardless of your opinions on bullfighting, the arena is pretty spectacular.


Given that Ronda is a three hour bus trip from Málaga, this was a fairly long day but worth it. I know I haven't seen much yet but Ronda is exactly how I pictured Spain to be. Hopefully the rest of Andalucia lives up just as well.

Sorry Rhonda, you're number two now. Ketut is still a babe, though.



Wednesday 10 February 2016

All We Hear Is Málaga-ga

Since I'm only in Spain for a relatively short amount of time (four and a half months isn't that long really), I've made it my mission to be out doing things around Spain for as many weekends as possible and this weekend was the first of hopefully many weekend jaunts about the countryside. It was also a long weekend so it would be a shame to waste it. My original plan had been to head to Cadíz for Carnaval but unfortunately that was considerably out of my price range. Failing that, I decided to still head South (for warmth, if nothing else) and check out the Costa del Sol region, basing myself in Málaga.


Firstly, some geography lessons on Spain because I'm sure it'll come up in future blog posts. Thing of Spain/Portugal as a big square (because it kind of is shaped like a big square). Portugal is the leftmost third, except for a small strip of Spain at the very top. The top of Spain is usually raining so I'm saving that for the summer when it stops for a month or so. In the top-right corner is Barcelona and the French border. Halfway down on the right is Valencia. Málaga, and the Costa del Sol (or Coast of the Sun) is in the bottom-right corner. Down the very bottom is Cadíz and Gibraltar and Madrid is in the very centre of everything. There's also some islands but they're not important *spoilers* yet.


Spain is also divided up into 17 "Autonomous Communities" (similar to states) which are then subdivided into provinces, usually named after the largest city in that province. Some Autonomous Communities are just the one province ("Madrid" is a city, a province and a Community) and Andalucia (the biggest Autonomous Community which takes up essentially the entire lower third of Spain) has 8 provinces, one of those being Málaga province. Got that? It might be easier if you just get a map.



I should also mention how I'm getting about as well because it's really cool. There is a website that operates in Europe (and parts of Latin America) called BlaBlaCar and it's awesome. Essentially, it's a cross between hitch-hiking and Uber-style ride-sharing. If someone with a car is doing a long drive and has some seats, they can sign onto the BlaBlaCar website and post the details of their trip and a price to come along and people who want to get around cheaply can pay to tag along. I'm paying €20 each way for the 6 hour trip between Madrid and Málaga.



Anyway, I didn't know much about Málaga but I had heard about a few of the towns around it before I even got to Spain, in particular the town of Ronda. My understanding of Spain is that the further North you go, the more conventionally European things are but the further you head South down the Iberian peninsula, the more 'Spanish' things become. This weekend certainly affirmed that theory.


I caught a BlaBlaCar to Málaga Friday morning and instantly loved the city when I arrived. Where Madrid is a big, modern, Western city, Málaga was all old buildings, winding cobble streets and marble everywhere. Although it is definitely a tourist town, being a major holiday destination for Brits trying to escape the British weather, Málaga itself seems to have struck a balance between an old city and a new tourist metropolis. Or at least, they've done a good job of making the city look that way. It reminded me a lot of the South of France. It might have also helped that being so far South, the temperature was a lot more pleasant than Madrid.

The next day I was up early to go checkout the nearby town of Ronda. Also, by 'nearby' I mean it was three hours each way on a bus. Totally worth it but. Unfortunately, the program I use to create this blog is painful and I can only attach so many pictures per post so Ronda gets its own special blog coming soon.
Saturday night was also the first night of Carnaval celebrations. Although the biggest festivities happen in Cadíz and Tenerife, Málaga had some celebrations as well. Things got a little strange but it was a great party atmosphere and most of the locals got really into it. Apparently the theme for Carnaval is just 'dress up' in general and you could interpret that how you wanted. I didn't want to take too many photos of random people in costume but most people were dressed up.



Sunday I planned to have an easy day, just exploring Málaga. I did half that, because I did explore Málaga. On the hill overlooking the town is the old Moorish fort, today known as 'La Alcazaba'. I decided to go check it out and climbed the hill to have a look. For the princely sum of €0.60, I had a good few hours exploring around the fort which has been immaculately maintained. La Alcazaba was a palace as well as a fortress and the architecture and design was breathtaking.


It was only after I explored La Alcazaba that I learned there was a second building. If La Alcazaba was on a hill overlooking the city, El Castillo del Gibralfaro was on a mountain overlooking the city. It was 2o'clock by the time I got to the top of the mountain which was convenient because the castle was free after 2 on Sunday's. Also, there was a man with a cart selling cold beers for €1 on the way into the old castle because Spain is awesome. El Castillo del Gibralfaro was much less ornate than La Alcazaba but the views out over the old stone walls of the rolling hills in one direction, the blue ocean in the other and the white city (Málaga is also largely painted white) in the middle were second to none.


After a well deserved late lunch, I checked out the Pablo Picasso museum, in which I wasn't allowed to take photos but enjoyed.


Monday, my last day, I caught another early bus up into the mountains to the small Pubelo Blanco of Mijas. Although there is not really any particular tourist attraction per se, Mijas is possibly the most beautiful of the white towns I saw and its position, perched halfway up an enormous mountain range, meant it too provided some beautiful scenery which, again, was difficult to capture on an iPhone.


After an hour or two in Mijas, I caught a bus down to the seaside down of Fuengirola where I spent a few hours enjoying sitting in the sun, on the beach, drinking cheap, cold beers. This is the Europe I remembered from my last trip. What a way to while away a few lazy hours! I'm sure it won't be my last on this trip.


Anyway, from Fuengirola I caught another BlaBlaCar back to Madrid, where I'm writing this in the backseat. Unfortunately no one else in the car speaks English and I've exhausted all my Spanish so I'm just staying quiet while they talk amongst themselves.


The south of Spain is incredible and I can't wait to get back down there and see more, hopefully before it gets too hot.