Cold Brew and other gems from the Little Silver Cup

Personal, Travel

 

 

January and July mark mid-year celebrations for me and my partner. Since years we keep on surprising each other with different locations or venues we visit to celebrate. This year’s July surprise was visiting Cadiz, or Little Silver Cup, given the city’s shape, light and location between the majestic Atlantic Ocean and Bahia de Cadiz.

When we arrived to the city, we literally felt as if we fell into the hot, humid broth to describe the temperature best, so for the rest of the day we stayed at the water side, not able to wander around too long around the historic city center. We enjoyed a peaceful walk as there were not too many fellow visitors despite the high season, so we managed to inhale the relaxed city vibe, its charming parks and its magnificent Cathedral. When breaking free, we don’t like forcing on ourselves too rigid plans or timelines – the magic happens when you accidentally discover something unusual. This entry is about the gems hidden beyond the first sight.

And so it happened. The next day, awaiting the boat to take us to the fascinating town Puerto Santa Maria, and wanting to cope with the humid weather, we ordered a refreshing Cold Brew at the Top Coffee Shop, ran by some very interesting baristas. We even bought the book by one of them, Yolanda Mariscal with a promising, Almodovaresque title Pide Un Deseo in order to practice our Spanish, and experience a good lesbian novel intrigue. Both challenges unlocked! 

When we arrived to Puerto Santa Maria, we were contrasted with a never-ending yacht marina (Cadiz Bay is a popular cross-Atlantic departure/arrival spot) and derelict port buildings. Passing around the quiet and rather rough-looking streets we discovered some of the quirkiest design stores and sherry wine cellars for the connoisseurs. Eventually, our ultimate hidden gem was a restaurant Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken, situated between the tidal swamps and train station.

A 17th century mill, operating thanks to the powerful Atlantic Ocean tides, was restored and converted into the Andalucian experimental restaurant and a completely out of space experience. Before entering the venue and tasting the main menu, one has to go through the rite of passage, welcomed by the glass of fino and hostia made of sea urchins and sea honey, plankton tortilla and sun-dried octopus nigiri.

I would like to keep the rest of the experience a secret to be discovered only by the curious. Enough mentioning that what you see is not often what you eat. In a Petri dish there may be a dessert. A tardigrade-resembling creature may be a razor clam. While we ate, the tide changed from ebbs to flows, and the migratory birds of the Gibraltar Strait were enjoying their crustacean menu as well. Quoting my partner, there is nothing more (to say): Non Plus Ultra.

Costa de la Luz – tribute to the sun

Travel

Last week the summer officially started, bringing long, intense days, scorching sun, smell of the sea and the appetite to discover new places around. As soon as the travel between the provinces had been allowed, I set myself to my revisit my beloved Ocean, the part of Andalucia called Costa de la Luz. After last year’s visit to Tarifa, I always wanted to return there as much as I could. 

Leaving at the sunrise, the roads were still pretty empty and it was such a pleasure driving slowly around the steep mountains nearby Marbella, changing naturally into the landscape of vast fields, Atlantic forest and dunes as soon as you leave towards the Cadiz province. From time to time I could see the birds of prey or even vultures hovering in the sky just above the car.

Passing by the white towns of Vejer and Barca, I chose my first destination: Conil de la Frontera. At the end of May there was still only a handful of people visiting and it allowed me to enjoy the vast Ocean beaches almost alone, something hard to imagine during the high season. I took my Mom with me as she loves this type of places and it was a great reunion for us to spend a few days together in such a scenery. Conil is one of the most picturesque ‘white towns’, founded by the Phoenicians, famous for the Spanish Reconquista and for its almadraba fishing method. 

The appreciation for the local cuisine led me to check the menu of various taverns, who compete for the most creative tuna dishes. My absolute favourite in Conil would go to Taberna Chanca, full of creative yet simple tapas. I rarely repeat places when travelling, but I enjoyed it so much, I returned there after 2 weeks, this time with my partner. I only hope that the traditional method has the appreciation for this magnificent species. Even the local Virgen del Carmen is blessing the fishermen and the tuna itself.

From the natural paradise lens, another place that completely blew my mind was the endless lagoon on Playa de Castilobo with an ancient Moorish tower, currently inhabited by Hermit Ibises, re-introduced by the group of local ornithologists. Its colonies once existed all over Europe, North Africa and Middle East, and currently it is considered one of the most endangered species on our planet. There, you can hear and watch a few couples, producing synthetic, squeaky sounds and breeding happily – it is a treat for bird watcher’s eye. 

On the way between Conil, Palmar and Barbate there is also a lot of hiking trails around the Natural Park of Brena and Marismas, leading through steep ocean cliffs and forests. I met no one there, except from a few rabbits and a hoopoe! If the visibility is good, it is quite easy to observe the other side of the Gibraltar Strait, and Atlas Mountains in Morocco. 

During my second trip, I stayed at the laid-back town of Zahara de los Atunes, where again I spent a lot of active time on the beach, hiking and enjoying the local 0 km cuisine. A special mention goes to the Taberna del Campero for a lovely treat, heart-warming patio where not only humans, but also doves have their special place. The waiters were quite mindful of the pair of doves, nesting on the patio, disregarding the comment of some customers about the presence of the birds. They simply said “Yes, there are doves here. They live here with us. And they have little chicks now, that’s why we put them a special nesting cardboard to help them out”. 

The importance of being respectful, not only to the local towns visiting, but also the animals living there, like the mentioned tuna, gekkoes, spoonbills, storks and herons one can notice when spending time next to the lagoons and beaches. The South of Spain has an incredible offer for the nature lovers and slow travellers – we cannot destroy it with the new wave of massification of the tourism. And here comes my tribute to the sun, sand and sea. 

Senda Litoral to Marbella – on four wheels

Personal, Travel

The title of this month’s post is only slightly misleading. It has been a long, intense and beautiful month for me and I can’t pin point a single cause of that fact, so I have to choose one. And it is the general kinetic pleasure of being able to travel, on four wheels, further than usual, as the movement restrictions and over six months of Estado de Alarma have been lifted. 

On FOUR wheels though? What happened to the Peugeot urban bike who was a protagonist of most of my recent posts? Here comes the pun! Two bikes equal four wheels (let’s not forget about the brave Kross who came with us all the way from Berlin, and earlier, from Poland!), true. But the fact is, the bikes share a parking lot with a car now! And the best part of it is, that in order to buy the car, we went over 50 kms using our own bikes, to the big surprise of the seller. Who started to doubt if we really need a car, even prior to see us driving it. 

Let me tell you about the way first. Since I moved to Costa del Sol, I started fantasizing of a long bike ride towards the Cadiz coast and learned, that currently, the path leads almost to Estepona, with some degree of creativity. Since I am not a big fan of using the major roads crowded with cars, I try to look for an alternative. It is not as easy in Malaga though as it is in more plain provinces. On one hand, you are limited by the rocks at the sea, and on the other by the steep mountains. So the choice of roads to use is fairly limited. There is a way to reach Marbella/Estepona currently, using the beautiful Senda Litoral via Mijas Costa, but only during weekdays and particular timeframes, not clashing with the pedestrians (9-11 am or 2-4 pm). So here comes the right amount of creativity and planning into the mix. 

While the town of Cala de Mijas looks like the most of the other Costa del Sol beach towns, the magic starts after passing by the next town, Sitio de Calahonda. There is where the Natural Park of Dunas de Artola brings peaceful landscapes of vegetation, sandy beaches and if you are lucky, you can recognize colourful flowers and birds on the way. We were very lucky to hear, and then spot about three hoopoes on that particular ride! Although some of the legends claim that to hear the hoopoe’s call brings sudden death, I prefer to attribute it to the springtime nuptial ceremonies among this species. Especially when I am learning to drive once again. Apparently, the females choose the most attractive male by the quantity, frequency and profoundness of their calls. To learn more about the hoopoe, I truly recommend the movie ‘Return of the Hoopoe‘!

But it is not all about the hoopoe. The vegetation and the wildlife observed by this beautiful path is endless, especially during springtime. The path offers whale and dolphin spotting outposts, especially around Fuengirola’s nudist beaches, making the others doubt if you really do whale or birdwarching (facepalm). This least pleasant part of the ride goes close to the motorway, so escaping the ongoing sound of the roaring engines by looking at the big blue is one of the best strategies to enjoy this 8 km ride. However, I recently learned that the local authorities plan to build a proper path, further down the rocky coast and not so close to the motorway. Judging by the amount of the runners, bikers and pedestrians it is a great idea.

The reality though, at least for now, is that we can’t go wherever we want to by our beloved four bike wheels. Hence, the decision to buy a car came just before turning 2 years living in Malaga, which is by the way, exactly today. Since we have not driven a car for many years, we are quite nervous behind the wheel but still love beautiful design and can’t agree to use a SUV, we decided for a fun, second hand car with a good condition and low mileage. So far we are still learning, yet the freedom to choose to go to the ocean or wherever we point the finger on the map, is priceless. 

Since then, almost three weeks passed and the car is not in use unless we go to practice or if we need to go somewhere further. I still recommend using collective transportation, bike or own feet to discover Andalucia, when possible, thinking about our own health, and the condition of our planet. 

Walking or driving slower, does not take the magic of the discovery, quite the opposite. Thanks to these long walks, lurking into and mindful registering of the nature, I was able to spot this gourmand sparrow, enjoying jamón ibérico, among other magical happenings that we miss by, if we live too fast.

The wonders of wandering

Travel

Following up on my springtime post, I wanted to share some hiking highlights of the past weeks. Since I am currently living in a municipality surrounded equally by the Mediterranean Sea and the Mountains of Malaga I have the best of the two worlds.

Walking up 500-900 m in the neighbouring vicinity, if you are lucky, there are goats, vultures, eagles to be spotted. These days the slopes are also blossoming with flowers and you can witness a buzz of the bees moving from one spot to another.

What I don’t necessarily enjoy are the humans exploiting the hiking paths with their bikes, causing havoc, natural damage and potential accidents to more respectable passer-byes. Extreme sports seem to be the passion of many these days though. In search of less popular hikes I believe it is crucial to leave Costa del Sol and seek slightly more hidden trails of Gran Senda de Malaga. 

Last Sunday our friends took us to Frigiliana to discover the beauty of its forestal paths with hidden wells, Ermitas and waterfalls. During the springtime months you have to be wary of the weather changes as those narrow, quiet mountain streams may change within minutes to dangerous rivers. Similarly, as the sun goes up, waterfalls are drying up – witnessing these changes within only some hours of walk is somewhat magical.

After the long way up the river Higueron we got lost and turned back towards Nerja. Before continuing on the trail, we made a detour to Frigiliana’s Old Town to try a very authentic Polish Restaurant Sal y Pimienta, offering the most famous dishes as both mains, as well as tapas. The restaurant is a family business and both the food and the service were great, and welcoming. Definitely coming back if I am home sick at any point!

After having highly caloric feast, we came back towards on the trail, discovering wild beaches of Maro, self-made shelters of those living the alternative way in the beautiful surroundings, as well as ancient Moorish towers. 

Ending up our walk at the top of a high rock, we could observe sea birds flocking around the school of fish, while breathing the fresh air of water, flowers and Mediterranean spices growing alongside the trail. What a beautiful way to start off the spring. Before the summer and beach time is here to stay again, I am looking so much forward to discovering more of the winding hiking trails of Malaga.

Nerja – the abundant source of charm

Personal, Travel

 

Located about 50 kms east from Malaga, Nerja can be reached by various means of transportation, including a bike, which has lately contributed to great source of my well-being and happiness, while the times and the reality around us in the whole world are so uncertain. Although the path to Nerja is uneven, it may be reachable within a couple of hours’ drive, passing through various coastal towns which I can highly recommend.  

Nerja, under its Muslim name Narixa, meant an ‘abundant source’ and I could agree it has a lot to offer on various levels: culturally, naturally and culinary. It has been my third time visiting this coastal town, this time at the brink of the third wave of COVID-19 in Spain, during a long weekend of October. 

Famous for its caves, where multiple events, such as concerts and dance festivals have been taking place, Nerja spans along a rocky coast of Maro Natural Reserve, reachable by hiking from the steep rocks, or by sea with the use of the paddle surf or kayak. We opted for the second one, and been incredibly lucky to see some corals, and the underwater sea life. 

The Caves of Nerja were discovered accidentally by the local group of speleologists in 1959 and span across almost 5000 m, where only one third can be currently seen by the external, rookie visitors. Visiting the Hall of Nativity, the Hall of Cataclism, The Hall of Ballet and The Hall of Phantoms leave you with goosebumps. Being so close to spectacular formations, as well as the evidence of human presence from over 30000 years ago, is hard to describe in words.

One obvious mental connection to this experience is the architecture of Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia – although it is possibly pretentious to compare, the closeness of  such a beautiful natural phenomena immediately triggers the same response as participating with great art. This is when my boyfriend and I realized how much we miss art, venues and this transcendental feeling. 

Nerja’s old town, including its famous Balcon de Europa was possibly different and quite empty due to first restrictions of COVID-19’s third wave. There were not too many people visiting, although it has been a national-wide long weekend, usually producing a lot of interest in visiting places like Nerja. We even chose to stay in an adult-only hotel, thinking of avoiding large families with children and this was a very good call for someone willing to rest well, after all. The real meaning of an adult-only hotel remains a mystery to me though which is a possibly a different topic to discuss. Possible features of such a hotel include interesting lightning in the room, set of jacuzzi and sunbeds on the rooftop (priceless in the warm October nights) and mostly, Instagram-influencers-looking couples spending most of their time posing to their stories, showing off their ‘fresh’ tattoos, bikinis or muscles (that’s not me, currently not in a possession of any of the mentioned features). 

From the culinary perspective, Nerja has a few spots offering not only fantastic Spanish cuisine, but also as exotic as Nepalese or Polish food, for which we have to thank to our Spanish teach, Ricardo, for pointing us to this direction. I would love to repeat the visit time and again, on bike, not knowing how far we’ll get to and where we’ll stay. This feeling of the careless freedom of being outside is growing strong, although I know we need a bit more time to come back to whatever the new normality will be.

Tarifa treasures

Travel

September is one of my favourite months in Spain. Not only loud children come back to school and create less havoc everywhere, but also temperatures drop to a perfect 28-30 Celcius degrees, making it a perfect timing for staying at the beach, biking and exploring the nearby treasures. In this blog post I want to write a little bit about my escape to the Southernmost tip of Spain at the Gibraltar Strait: Tarifa.

Even though the summer has been marked heavily by COVID-19 and the second wave, I try to resume my usual activities: hiking, staying in the nature and exploring the nearby landscapes of Andalucia. Actually, I have enjoyed less tourists and crowds in the region, making it more accessible and enjoyable for the local residents.

I spent just a few days in Tarifa, staying in a small village of Pozuelo, about 3,5 kms walking next to a natural reservoir, formed by the Ocean tides and creeks coming from the nearby hills. I chose it because of the remote feeling, listening mostly to the migrating birds and the wind, famous among the surfers from all over the place.

Tarifa is famous for its impecably white, sand beaches and watersports. Playa de los Lances is one of the broadest and most spectacular ones, from my humble beachtesting perspective.

There are still some bunker remains and a lot of former battery stations all over Tarifa – a literal entry point to the Iberian Peninsula. Nowadays the coast of Cadiz is also one of the entry for the migrants from all the North Africa, and Spain being one of the countries welcoming the biggest number of refugees, after all.

War-torn, Moorish and postcolonial past is present almost at almost every step of the little town of Tarifa. Also, the town blossoms with a lot of green squares and hidden gardens, thanks to the horticultural thought of the Moorish predecessors.

This summer has been strange and the town seemed half-empty, half-crowded at the same time, as only some of the restaurants and shops opened during pandemic, creating a congestion of visitors. This is why I haven’t spent too much time in the town itself, and preferred observing the life of birds, bugs and kites outside of Tarifa. Each year the town even hosts a birdwatching series of events, welcoming thousands of birds migrating between the European and African continent.

I found peace and rest after a very intense period of work at home this year, not to mentioned confinement, walking miles every day and enjoying being outside. The local cuisine consisting of mostly 0 km food, such as tuna and its parts in various combinations and plethora of fish was delicious and I can’t wait to return to this paradise sometime soon.

At the Sierra’s feet: Jerez del Marquesado

Travel

New month, new updates from Spain and particularly Andalucia: amidst the pandemic, however in the ‘new normality’ tomorrow, we will be allowed to enter so-called Phase 3. Apart from the freedom to leave home anytime, go to the beach and enjoy the nature, one can also gather up with friends at a safe distance. Hoping for discovering new, remote places nearby, I’m reminiscing a day in Jerez del Marquesado, a charming village at the feet of Sierra Nevada.

What brought me there? A recommendation from the local tourist guide I asked earlier on in Guadix, where to spend a relaxing day as well as hike around without a necessity of renting a car. There was no such place in Guadix opened on that day anyway. Jerez currently counts less than 1000 habitants and this number is sadly, steadily declining. On that day the streets of its beautiful old town were completely empty, apart from the cats laying lazily in the sun.

I took my time to wander around the town, drink tinto de verano in the bar Los Cortijillos. Unlike in touristy places, the drink was followed by a huge portion of migas tapas, famous in this region as high-protein leftover food. The owner must have thought I would be hiking all the way up to Pico de Jerez, while I only took a famous Chestnut Walk all the way to a millenial tree, which could shelter up to 4 adults. 

The mountain range surrounding Jerez is particularly steep and was a place of a US military plane crash in the 60s, where thanks to the brave help of the locals all the crew members miraculously survived.

After all, I spent half a day hiking in Jerez and it stole my heart completely. Blossoming chestnuts, vivid streams and creeks, and a green forest oasis on this Spanish ‘Route 66’ will stay on my mind as one of the perfect days I lived.

Cinematic dreams of Guadix

Travel

After spending almost 50 days fully confined, I have to admit my imagination leads me to the places I’ve visited even more often. Since yesterday, I have been allowed to go out for a walk or exercise during certain hours nearby, and this makes me already very contented. Although I know the pathway to the ‘new normality’ will take some time and who knows how long it will take, and how the new world will look like.

My imagination today takes me back to Guadix, a very special town I had pleasure to visit last year, touring around Andalucia. After months of intense work, I was craving for a remote, desolated place surrounded by stunning nature. Curiosity and a random cinematic guide brought me an idea of renting a few nights in a ‘human cave’. Houses underneath the soil were very popular in this part of Spain, especially during the great migration of mining and agriculture workers. Almodovar’s ‘Dolor y Gloria‘ depicts this period of time very accurately.

Upon my arrival, what surprised me more, is that Guadix used as a film stage for other movies I’d never think of! ‘Indiana Jones’ being probably the most famous one, and ‘Karol, un uomo diventato Papa’ about John Paul II – the most surprising one. Not sure if Guadix staged as Vatican City, or Wadowice – provincial town in Poland, judging by the looks: could be both.

It does not surprise when you get to know Guadix a bit more: the town consists of various neighbourhoods, varying greatly in their architecture, wealth and even: light. The ‘cave’ neighbourhood is full of red rocks and sand contrasted by the while houses, and scorching sun, while downtown is rather shady and full of winding, narrow streets with stray cats on every corner. There is also an impressive castle and cathedral in between.

This is why Guadix can pretend almost any Wild West, Roman or provincial town. I like it most for being Guadix though. Surrounded by stunning Sierra Nevada and deserts, the sunrise and sunset shed thousands shades over this special place. As you can see below, I could not help but stare and capture the most of its beautiful light.

I found peace there. Spending a few nights in the cave (thanks to renting it from the local owner, named Maria) made me realize about how important it was to design such a place to shelter from heat in the day as well as during freezing nights. Also, how spacious the caves are and how sustainably one could live in such a close connection to the nature.

I hope for discovering more gems in Andalucia at some point later in the year, when I might be able to live the city. For now, I am lucky to have lived the authentic, Guadix experience and stayed there longer than initially expected, doing absolutely nothing.

A sentimental journey back to Sevilla

Personal, Travel

Seville, known as ‘the prettier sister of Malaga’ is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This year, confined at home since over 4 weeks due to the devastating pandemic worldwide, and at the same time, very grateful to be healthy and safe, I am reminiscing some of my getaways to this charming place.

Sevilla (as I prefer to use the original naming convention) is the 4th largest city in Spain with the largest area of Casco Antiguo, the old city centre, and plethora of architectural gems coming from various centuries: from ancient times, romanticism to modern influences.

Famous for its oranges blossoming throughout the year, flamenco, unbearably hot summers and religious traditions, Sevilla attracts its spectators especially during Easter, for Semana Santa processions. I have never chosen this time to visit Sevilla, but instead, went there a couple of times in the colder months to live and breathe the city staying in the least touristy neighbourhoods.

Walking around the city is incredibly pleasant, as it offers a lot of shadow in its parks and is very green as for a city in deforested Andalucia, as well as there is plenty of tavernas and peculiar restaurants or bars, such as church-themed Garlochi. Cuisine is very varied and apart from traditional Spanish tapas, there is a lot of healthy options as well as Latin-American or gourmet options, such as Abantal. This restaurant is based on local ingredients only and uses a lot of symbolic, including the NO8DO ‘No me deja-do’ – the loyalty for the city.

Sevilla, apart from being a monumental testimony for the Spanish crown, is also very lively nowadays, and its modern architecture and art is very intriguing, including the Setas installation as well as the neighbourhood built for the Expo 1992. There are various guides to discover Sevilla by its azulejos picturing the scenes from the old times and referring to universal topics like death, festivities and changing seasons.

And even for a non-religious person like me, the mysticism of Sevilla makes me shiver down the spine. As I accidentally witnessed the procession of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación carried by dozens of men and followed by a local orchestra, I was in awe for cultivating such a beautiful tradition for ages.

And this is Sevilla for me, really. The beauty of the sunshine in the day, and the unbelievable light of the night, with mystical secrets almost in every corner, mixing up with more ludic traditions and customs.

I am grateful to be living in a vicinity of such a different city only 2 hours away and today I reminisce the fact how much I love exploring the region I am lucky to be currently living, Andalucia.

Día de Andalucía en Córdoba

Travel
Today’s a very special day for all the women and human population anyway. Last week though it was the region of Andalucia that celebrated its Day. 28th February fell on Friday and thanks to that, I could getaway for a long weekend to one of my favorite cities nearby: Cordoba. 

Why Cordoba is so special? Dating back to Ancient Roman times, it was one of the most developed cities in the world: home to philosophers, scientists and artists. Till today one can really ‘breathe’ the air of this place.  

For centuries, it was a melting pot of Jewish, Arabic and Christian culture, until the history took drastic, turning points. Fortunately, the presence of all these is palpable in various parts of the city. This time I decided to indulge myself in the remnants of the Caliphate culture by staying in a stylized Arabic livelihood, visiting Hammam and even eating out at the restaurant inspired by Andalusian cuisine from 14th Century: Noor. 

The ingredients used for the creation of the menu at Noor consist of typical dishes from the region and 0 km food. Also, to pay tribute to the Andalusian Caliphate, the chef, Paco Morales decided not to use any of the ingredients coming from post-colonial times, e.g. tomatoes, potatoes, avocado or chocolate. Thanks to that he and his team achieved a recreation of the cuisine from the very special period of the Arabic reign in Cordoba. 

Cordoba’s monumental Cathedral: La Mezquita is probably one of the most beautiful and mystical religious sites I’ve ever been to. I remember visiting it in 2011 when there was still a place to contemplate the details and the big picture with its surroundings, nowadays it’s way too crowded to my taste. Apparently in 2019 the number of visitors surpassed 2 millions annually. 

This is why currently what stole my heart were the tiny streets in less crowded parts of the city. Some of them have rather peculiar names, such as ‘Where are we heading to’, ‘Images’ and other descriptive ones. The narrowest one, Calleja del Panuelo, is one of the cutest, although not recommended for people with claustrophobia. 

Cordoba boasts the tradition of houses with flowery patios, offering shade during crazily hot summers when the temperature rises up to 45 degrees Celcius. In May there is even a Festival of Patios when proud owners offer visiting their beautiful gardens. In February orange trees blossom and the smell around the city is simply magic.

I could not choose a better way to celebrate the Day of Andalucia, and I wouldn’t mind returning there time and again.