Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jan 7 2016 - Tales from an Andalucian Roadtrip

A rundown of a few things we've come across on our road trip...


Taking in the Flamenco...
- Arrived in Seville, the entire town seemed to be promenading around town just outside the largest cathedral (by volume) in the world. The city has a good energy to it.

- We took Bowie to a Flamenco show at the Museo de Flamenco. He was absolutely captivated during all of the dances, but he would get bored and start making noises during the guitar solos. Not bad for a one-year-old! The audience seemed really tolerant and understanding as we'd stand up and go to the back of the room between songs to wait for the next dance.

- On the way home from the show, we discovered we could stand outside bars - there's often a window or counter - and I can wear Bowie in the carrier while we taste drinks/food through the window. He really loved arroz negro (rice with octopus and ink)!
- Dunkin Donuts: the donuts are called just "Dunkins"


- Bowie tried using a baby walker at El Corte Ingles (the giant Spanish department store chain) and had a blast!!! He was walking for about 45 minutes, bumping into things, navigating over to things he wanted to see. This kid is going to be walking very soon!
- Stayed at a hotel called Casas de la Juderia (houses of the Jewish quarter). Stayed at another hotel by the same name/description in Sevilla too but they are no longer owned by the same company. Both hotels had a really unique vibe - they bought up old houses in the Jewish quarter, carved them into individual hotel rooms, left original open "streets" between the houses, a decorated each room differently with touches from the old days. Really clever and unique experience!
- Around 8:30pm we stopped by a restaurant called Casa Bravo near at the gate on the edge of the old town (Puerta De Almodovar). It seemed dead and we were surprised we were able to order food. Then people started showing up. More and more people. And the large main table filled up with locals with guitars and amazing voices. Apparently the old folks come to Casa Bravo to perform flamenco guitar and singing. We seemed to be among the few tourists. It was a really special treat!

- Visited two Jewish historical sites: Casa de Sefarad (house set to show how the Jews lived around 1000 CE) and Sinagoga (used from 1315-1492, then later as a therapy center, a shoemakers union, and nursery school. During a somewhat recent renovation, Hebrew writing was discovered on the walls, the history of the building was rediscovered, and it was restored back to its former status as a synagogue).
- We also toured Mezquita - the large cathedral in a former mosque. It's massive and Bowie loved crawling around - until a security guard said enough was enough.


- For at least an hour of the roadtrip to Granada, there were olive groves on both sides of the highway as far as the eye could see.
- There are orange trees throughout Andalucia - in public parks, lining the streets, everywhere! And fresh squeezed orange juice is the only kind you can get because they just run out and pick the trees in front of the cafe (or so it seems!)
- We spent a night in the AlbaicĂ­n Arab and Moorish quarter and afternoon at Alhambra visiting the best preserved Moorish palace in the world.
- Alhambra has an amazing history - the center of Moorish rule of Andalucia since the 13th century, the home to Spanish/Catholic rule starting in 1492 (Columbus allegedly had his trip to find India/America planned and approved there), Napolean housed his troops here when the Bonapartes briefly rules Spain in the early 1800, then it was abandoned and later taken up by Roma (gypsies) until Washington Irving spent time here around 1830 and wrote a book called Tales of the Alhambra, which inspired the Spanish to preserve the fort and palace and open it to tourists. It is said that Escher has been heavily inspired by Alhambra.
- I've been wearing Bowie in his carrier during most of this trip. He kicks me when he's excited about something - mostly for dogs, babies, staircases, and fountains. In Alhambra he found all four as the Moors had built fountains everywhere and there were more locals and pets than we had seen in the previous cities.
- Granada has the great tradition of providing free tapas with each alcoholic drink. So feel free to order another round, you won't be drinking on an empty stomach!
- Granada is easily our favorite city on this roadtrip. Maybe it's because we stayed in the center of the city to soak up the local flavors and textures. Maybe it's because the Spanish holidays have ended and life is getting back to normal. Maybe because Granada is nestled among the Sierra Nevada mountains and it felt like home. But the city feels really alive, vibrant, and, hey, free tapas! We'll be coming back to experience more of Granada some day...

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Jan 2 2016 - Checking out of Fuengirola and Malaga

Playground on the beach in Fuengirola

This vacation to Andalucia in southern Spain is split into two chunks: rest/relaxation in the beachside region of Malaga/Fuengirola, and city hopping / road tripping the loop between Malaga - Sevilla - Cordoba - Granada. From Christmas through New Years, we've been enjoying the R-and-R portion of the trip, sharing the visit with friends and family.

Kostya (left) and Dave (right)

The scuba company Kostya and I dove with offered a New Years Eve excursion to Marina del Este in Costa Tropical and we jumped at the chance to dive in Europe's first Marine National Park. There was another family diving the same beach, and while they were working on their skills for PADI certification, they let us borrow their GoPro camera. During two easy dives from the shore down to 12 meters (Kostya is not certified), we saw a family of catfish bottom feeding, octopi in motion, eels slithering, and lots of beauty.

Making the paella!

We made it back just in time to join the rest of our group in making Paella and having a multi-course feast with fruit curry, fresh Mediterranean salad with crab, and a tasting menu of local cervesas y vinos. Just before midnight, we all ran out to the central square for the countdown. By Spanish tradition, we consumed 12 grapes at a rate of 1 per second starting at 23:59:49.

Stuffing in the grapes

Jetlag has hit Bowie in a pretty amazing way - there's no doubt he's definitely our kid. Bowie has been staying up until 1-2am and then sleeping until 1pm or so. I'm not sure if other babies travel this way but it's working out great for us. Come to mention it, the entire country seems to be on Bowie's schedule. In the late afternoon, everything shuts down so we can take a nap. Local restaurants and bars reopen and stay open late - and they're so baby friendly - it's hard not to stay up and enjoy!

New Years on the square!

New Year's day we visited the Biopark (endangered species zoo) in Fuengirola. The highlight was when we were invited to join a small group touring the lemur habitat. They decided to congregate around Bowie and go into a shrieking fit. It wasn't Bowie's favorite moment - I'm not sure he saw the humor in it!

Lemur getting close and comfortable

A little too close

After one last visit with each set of friends, we checked out of Fuengirola and hit the road for Sevilla. Around 5pm I needed to get online for a few minutes to book a campground for our annual summer camping trip, so it seemed like a good time for a pitstop. We happened upon a Shell gas station that had a lovely cafe with good seafood soup, sheep cheese sandwiches, and a tapas bar. Cafe con leche and Cafe cortado are available in every restaurant, bar, cafe, and even gas station - they all have espresso makers for serving the national hot beverage! There were other families there, including one with a baby boy 5 days younger than Bowie. This kiddo was running around a bit, and he gave Bowie a "regalito" of one of his shakers.

Bowie happily discovering what happens when you bite into a jam packet

The night ended when we pulled into the old Jewish quarter of Sevilla, its narrow windy ancient streets, and parted with our car for a couple of days. We won't be needing it until the roadtrip continues on Monday.

Posing under the light display in Malaga

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dec 29 2015: Malaga Spain

Blog post # 200

Getting carried off the plane

Casa Roberto and his golf clubs

We arrived in Malaga Spain after 20 or so hours in transit. Bowie decided we all needed to play during the 11 hour long segment, so by the time we arrived at CDG for layover, he had just passed out. We were all pretty zombieish, zoning in and out through the short flight to Malaga Spain, claiming checked baggage, picking up the rental car, etc. When we got to the hotel in Fuengirola, Olga's brother Konstantin and our baby friends (Olga and Ron) were all ready to take us to dinner. We managed a quick walking tour of the cute Roman era portside town and ended up at a kitschy restaurant Casa Roberto known for winning the Guinness book of world records for displaying the most golf clubs (3000+ are suspended from the ceiling). In spite of this, the food is actually surprisingly good. The swordfish kabobs were suspended from a sword on the table, neat presentation! The bed felt very sweet as we hadn't been in one for a couple of days :)

Monday we headed to the main town of Malaga and its ancient (2800 year old) windy narrow streets and cumbersome parking. The Picasso museum is in a beautiful semi-Moorish style 16th century palace has several easy rooms of his material from various periods on loan from his family, along with an interesting basement exhibit of in-place ruins from the Phoenician, Roman, and Early Modern eras.  I found the building, the ruins, and the cafe to be worth the drive. Perhaps I was too tired to fully appreciate the art itself. I had been carrying Bowie around for a few days as the airline had temporarily misplaced his stoller (we got it back Monday night)

We've been experimenting with various pours of coffee in Spain. We started with the traditional Cafe con leche, which is espresso with a lot of milk. Then I started asking for Americano con un poco leche - it was eventually explained to me that this is called Cortado. Olga takes her coffee black so that's Cafe negro. One time we ordered all 3 for the 3 of us. The waiter brought over 3 cups: full, 2/3 full, 1/2 full. In two of them he poured the hot milk to make them all full. That's the easiest way to visualize the difference between Cortado and Con Leche. In case you were wondering! Side note: apparently the cortado is available in fancy coffee shops of San Francisco under the name Gibraltar.

Ice Cream like a delicate flower

Star Wars sand castle on the beach

Tuesday Kostya came to meet for breakfast, only to find us all still asleep at 11:30. He had brought Churros con chocolate - which we all enjoyed while making a giant mess in the room. The churros were essentially a giant ring of funnel cake without any sugar topping. We packed up quickly and drove to the town of Marbella to go scuba diving. It was his first dive and my 35th. I was glad to have the company and an opportunity to take a refresher course. After a quick introductory dive, we took a speed boat to Marbella Tower to dive the wreck of the iron ore ship loading crane, which collapsed in the 1960s. It's a great wreck because it was only 10 meters deep, the lighting was good, and even Kostya could dive it without any certification. We saw octopi, nudibranchs, a couple of moray eels hiding in the tower walls (you can only see the tips of their faces), large starfish, and many schools of fish. Afterwards we treated ourselves to helado (gelato) that is meticulously scooped to look like a flower. You can choose as many flavors as you want at any size cone/cup and they will work it into their signature design. Remarkable!!

Getting ready for the first dive

After ascending from The Tower