Springtime migration

Travel

After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain again. While this may be universally true, we’ve been waiting for the rain for over 9 months in Andalusia. Contrary to the other European locations, the percentage of rainy days accounts for 10% tops throughout the year.

This has profound effect on the ecosystem, including summer wild fires and decreasing bird population, especially the migratory species, looking for the rest after the long way to or from Africa through the Gibraltar Strait. The month of March though brought immense amount of water, as well as Sahara sandstorms twice, turning the Andalusian landscape into an orange-ish, muddy moonscape.

I went on a weekend trip to my beloved Conil de la Frontera on the Cadiz coast, also known as Costa de la Luz. The heavy rain was gone by then, leaving vast greenfield areas and welcoming the migratory bird species from Africa which came here for the nesting period, alongside the all-year-round inhabitants.

Conil is situated in between La Janda and seaside lagoons which are a great foraging area for egrets, stilts and other wading birds, previously mentioned.

I took some time to hide and train my amateur photographic eye to witness the common egrets cohabiting these areas with glossy ibis, and even more domestic species like pigeons or sparrows.

Alongside the coastal line I could also spot a curious wagtail observing the agile shore swallows and different gull and shy plover species. As the current changed every couple of hours, I could see their intensifying fishing attempts or giving up and resting on the shore.

I couldn’t miss visiting the glossy ibis colony in the Playa de Castilobo area. I was happy to see the colony growing in number, gracefully flying around the fields and sharing the foraging area with stilts and common egrets.

Around this time of the year, as I walked nearby the Atlantic beach meadow, the cattle was enjoying the company of the cattle egret, smaller in size and gregarious in its nature. I’m fascinated by the cohabitation and comensalism of these two species and since then, anytime I see a bull, a cow or a horse, I look out for the cattle egret around!

Coming back to the ibis colony, I could also see how well they share their territory with crows and rock pigeons, picturing some incredible everyday moments of living on the rocky tower block!

I am very glad that my bird-eye view becomes sharper each time I look around, being able to recognise and take a shot of a resting kestrel, comparing to my previous year’s photos.

Last but not least, among the springtime migration, there was a purple egret – a stunning, colourful bird alongside with terns and gulls, preparing for the nesting season and quite territorial. I won’t forget the bird attack I suffered on Iceland, not knowing about the close nesting location of the Arctic tern.

So, happy springtime birding and remember about the safety of the birds, yourself and distance to the nesting areas. Don’t joke with the tern!

Happy New Bird

Personal, Travel

December was a month full of highlights: despite 2021 being another year in pandemic, we made it through and made the most out of it, focusing on discovering the local gems of Andalucia and learning more about the cultural and biodiversity richness of place we live in.

This month we had a few visitors, including friends and family, which was great but equally intense, so we took a few days in between to be alone, in the brand new place for us: Jerez de la Frontera, and Trebujena marshlands. We set the direction to a picturesque road passing through Teba, Campillos, Olvera and Algodonales where we could spot lagoons perfect for flamingos as well as the mountain ranges known for the griffon vultures presence.

In 2,5 hours of slow drive through the sunny landscape of Andalucía we reached our destination. Even before, I heard great things about Jerez for being a true capital for sherry wine and lively tavernas locally called trabancos. A very first bird metaphor was used for tapas on our very first visit: as each tapa arrives with un gorrion (common sparrow), a shot of a locally distilled sherry. The city itself is best to experience through walking, and stopping by randomly at those places, or entering one of the wine bodegas today often converted into great restaurants, like La Carbona. 

Jerez is famous for its Royal School of Equestrian Arts as well as the Cathedral which was very nicely decorated a weekend before the Christmas. After spending a day in Jerez and sobering well after those tasty ‘sparrows’, we changed the scenery to join our first Andalucia Bird Society field meeting in Bonanza.

Bonanza is a part of an equally interesting sherry town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (we haven’t discovered yet), located at the mouth of Guadalquivir river entering the Atlantic Ocean, and opposite to the Doñana National Park. What strike at the very beginning are the huge ‘icebergs’ of salt, Salinas de Santa Teresa, abundant in that area and strategic material since the ancient times. Very close to it, we stopped by Laguna del Tarelo where the very first sightings were confirmed of the wintering and residing species of wading birds.

Thanks to our guide of the day, Juan Martin Bermudez we could see a daytime sleep of the Night Herons (who are foraging at night and have some interesting courtship behaviour of gifting a female with a green branch), as well as the appearance of a very rare, endangered species of the Marbled Teal (currently <55K species worldwide).

White-headed Ducks (coloured as the name mentions), Coot, Little Grebe, Grey Herons among other wading birds were seen on the water, while the Osprey and Red Kite appeared higher up the sky. We were very grateful to the fellow members for pointing us to the interesting sightings thanks to their scopes, which we hadn’t had at this point.

Passing through the vast marshlands of Trebujena, we made the next stop at the Esteros de Guadalquivir which offered us a great hide and sightings of Greater Flamingos, Black Redstart, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, variety of Plovers, Pied Avocet, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Tern. Up the river, we also so large vessels heading all the way to Seville, and, at a closer sight, we managed to see a Velvet and Common Scoter, occasionally passing through Andalucia during wintertime.

This great birding experience, combined with a jolly pre-Christmas atmosphere among the ABS members made us think that Santa should really get us a scope this year to continue our fantastic field discoveries. Upon our arrival from this trip, we wrote a special letter and few days later, probably thanks to the express postal services of the local Collared Doves, we got it!

Our first local birding trip got us to Guadalhorce on a New Year’s Day to celebrate the 2022 arrival, hoping for the better to this world of humans and animalia, and gave us a delightful day of observing both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Grey Herons hunting for the moles, gregarious Stilts, and the best of all: another time a Velvet Scoter!

To top it up, one of the fellow birders pointed us to the unforgettable scene of the Osprey-gourmand eating up his fish on the outpost. Apparently this particular Osprey returns since 16 years already to Malaga for the wintering season from Germany. Learning about it, it felt very emotional to be a witness of all the birds, and more what’s happening around us all the time. What a way to start a year and wish that everyone finds their own Happy New Bird! Believe me, witnessing the nature’s beauty and collecting sightings is much more precious than any NFT collection out there.

All the birdsongs of Doñana

Travel

I must have mentioned that autumn marks one of my favourite seasons in Andalucia. The heat in the air becomes bearable, the morning and evenings bring refreshing breeze and between September-October we can see most of the migrating bird species from the North of Europe. Some people migrate too, escaping short and dark days, carrying their caravans all the way to the Southernmost part of Spain which can be easily observed by the types of traffic on the motorway linking Spain and Portugal.

Mild(er) temperatures make it easier to hit the road, as well and enjoy the ride in the sun. Mid-October we visited Huelva Province’s gem for a weekend: the National Park of Doñana, one of the most spectacular outpost to observe wildlife species, almost undisturbed by the human presence. Until the 1950s there were more wolves than people around here which speaks for its wilderness.

October proved to be not the best season to visit this area though, especially after this year’s extremely hot and dry summer season, as the wetlands attracting thousands of migrating birds, were still dry. We mostly saw ‘wild’ horses and ‘wild’ cattle – distant cousins of the North American mustangs, brought there by the colonial forces all the way from the Huelva province, nowadays co-habiting the land with horse keepers from the peculiar town, El Rocio.

El Rocio is a spectacle of its own: build in 20th century, looks like a movie setting for the western type of films, and in all honesty, it is a bit of a Spanish Wild West. Inhabited by less than 2000 people on a daily basis, is known for its religious celebrations around the last weekend of May, as it attracts millions (!) of Holy Brotherhoods from all over Europe, to celebrate the existence of the Virgin of Rocio. It is then also a place where a lot of drinking and bravado happens all over town, contrary to what the guides from the National Park would like to see.

There are no roads nor cobble stone in El Rocio, it is all covered in sand and people mostly ride horses all over the village. Watch out for them even in the night when the Holy Brotherhoods celebrate singing chants and drinking a lot of wine! The traditional character of El Rocio makes it hard to see any culinary spots other than the most typical Spanish food, not even a pizza place. No wonder why pope JPII praised its conservative, religious character wishing that the ‘whole world be like El Rocio’. After the initial few hours in town, we were rather overwhelmed by the religious chauvinism, and escaped to visit the natural side of Doñana.

Early in the morning, we took a trip along the National Park, spotting dozens of deers, bores, spoonbills, storks and partridges. Despite the eye for the species, we weren’t able to see the Iberian Lynx, a species which lives a great success of re-introducing on the Iberian Peninsula for the last 20 years. From 12 to over 2000 of inhabitants, between Spain and Portugal! Still, they are endangered, mostly subject to being hit by cars on the local roads, which don’t respect the signs ‘Paso de Linces’ and a recommended speed of 40 kmph.

On the other hand, we were able to see roaming birds of prey, including the red kite – not so common anymore in Spain. Birdwatching continues to be the most relaxing and rewarding, mindful activity after long weeks of working with code and text. Only after two days we notice how the eye accommodates to the new stimuli!

Eventually, we spent some time at the vast, Atlantic sandy beaches, almost empty around this time of the year. The water was incredibly warm and pleasant to bathe and swim and we managed to get some last tan this year. We are definitely returning to Doñana sometime in the winter/spring, hopefully to see it more wetland species and less of the horse bravado.

As ondas da Ericeira

Travel

After a longer break from posting here, I am coming back after a few exciting but intense weeks which didn’t leave much space for reflecting by writing for pleasure. Exactly a month ago I spent a few magical days in the windy capital of the waves (ondas) in Ericeira, making it my first stay in Portugal since over two years.

How did I end up there? Long story short, this year I moved jobs and joined one of the leading no-code companies operating fully remotely, and my starting date coincided nicely with the very first onsite meeting face to face in this beautiful place on Earth. Working remotely does not mean you are disconnected, or get distant with the people you collaborate with. I could experience that first-hand, only one week after I started.

Logistically, it must have been a great effort to organise such a meeting safely and coordinate the arrival of 140+ people from 20+ countries all over the world. It all worked out to my amazement and was also a very first large social gathering I attended. Thankfully, the agenda consisted of different activities: meeting people in various contexts: joint meals and workshops and then enjoying very social activities but and also focused on self-balance and discovery, such as yoga, morning trail runs or surfing.

I joined a historic walk around the town to learn more about it. Having spent one summer not that far away from here, in Obidos, I knew the region quite well, but not Ericeira itself. Home to several world championships in surf due to very special waves conditions, it is mostly known by experienced wave lovers from all over the place. I wasn’t brave enough to give it a try yet, remembering my first attempts during that summer 2009 which resulted in knee injury.

I enjoyed the morning trail run though, encompassing the town from different angles, and passing through the historical sites. A fishing harbour is located next to the Pescadores beach, above which there is a number of picturesque houses, named after the fishermen or their trade. Next to it, there is also a tiny, magical chapel of Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem and a church of São Sebastião serving prayers to the seaman and their return, or as they name it ‘good death’.

Each year, during the local festivity dedicated to the Lady of the Good Trip (or we should say: Return), a procession from the sea is organised, bringing the Virgin on the boats from the ocean, in a specially decorated boats, followed by the walk on the streets covered by a colourful sand mosaics. I can only imaginee the harship of the sea life in the past, now looking at the powerful currents and winds in this area. Probably no one in the past would imagine that the crazy waves would attract ones thousands of adventure seekers.

During its hundeds years of the history, Ericeira became home to many travellers. For instance, traders from far away Macau would influence the architecture of the noblemen houses, bringing a little bit of Chinese culture to Portugal. Hundreds years later, Ericeira became a strategic point of further departure to the Americas for the Jewish people fleeing the horrors of the WWII, thanks to the Portuguese Consul Aristides de Souse Mendes.

The powerful sound of the waves, the harsh history or this place and the direct exposure to the ocean energy recharged me a lot while I kept getting to know so many new people from all around the world, sharing a context of the collaboration in such an unrealistically beautiful place.

Finally, we spent a day in a place I used to call home: Lisbon.I had a chance to revisit familiar and new places during the treasure hunt activity, and ending up the day at the sunset boat trip around the Tejo Bay. Some things changed, some remained the same – isn’t it a truism about all of us?

On the trail run path, I saw a poem, coming from Fernando Pessoa’s O Guardador de Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep), and I fell in love with these words immediately. Enjoy it, if you understand, and if you don’t, enjoy the sheer sound of the Portuguese language,.

O meu olhar é nítido como um girassol.
Tenho o costume de andar pelas estradas
Olhando para a direita e para a esquerda,
E de vez em quando olhando para trás…
E o que vejo a cada momento
É aquilo que nunca antes eu tinha visto,
E eu sei dar por isso muito bem…
Sei ter o pasmo essencial
Que tem uma criança se, ao nascer,
Reparasse que nascera deveras…
Sinto-me nascido a cada momento
Para a eterna novidade do Mundo…

Creio no Mundo como num malmequer,
Porque o vejo. Mas não penso nele
Porque pensar é não compreender…
O Mundo não se fez para pensarmos nele
(Pensar é estar doente dos olhos)
Mas para olharmos para ele e estarmos de acordo…

Eu não tenho filosofia: tenho sentidos…
Se falo na Natureza não é porque saiba o que ela é,
Mas porque a amo, e amo-a por isso,
Porque quem ama nunca sabe o que ama
Nem sabe porque ama, nem o que é amar…

Amar é a eterna inocência,
E a única inocência é não pensar…

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. 

Notes from the Giant Rock

Travel

As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month. As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month.

Gibraltar is located about only 80 kms away from Malaga and to get there, you can easily drive or take a bus to the ‘famous’ La Linea de Concepcion, bordering town, allegedly one of the most dangerous places in Spain according to the latest Netflix series. Surely it looked rundown in some parts, and incredibly luxurious in others, which is never a good sign. To get to Gibraltar, you have to pass through a border control within a few steps away from the bus station. To get into the city centre, sometimes you may have to wait to pass through the international Gibraltar airport’s landing stripe, as space is very limited by the Giant Rock.

My first observations were related to the language, indeed both English and Spanish are heard equally often and in various constellations of Spanglish and Englanol. The old town also brings back memories of commercial streets back in the UK and at the same time, has a charm of any Mediterranean town. Beers are served in pints and tapas are counted in pound sterling, which does make a difference from the neighbouring La Linea, where apparently a lot of people eat out. Gibraltar’s location is strategically related to one of the most neuralgic point between Africa and Europe and its history remembers wartime, sieges and endless battles. The remnants of it are visible within almost every step, even in parks in a form of a childlike quiz.

The wildlife of Gibraltar reside in the special zones: Barbary macaques are kept away from the city in the Apes Den and are very much used to being fed by the human beings. They are quick to check one’s rucksack belongings in search of food, causing big havoc. My boyfriend has been confronted with such situation simply passing by, ending up with a macaque sitting on his head, who meticulously performed search for anything else than our camera or bottle of water. Unsatisfied with the result she left – unfortunately this moment has not been recorded. Also butterflies receive their daily portions on the Butterfly Feeding Table, to the amusement of the visitors of the Alameda Park.

Wandering around the Upper Rock Natural Reserve Park you can see two continents and three countries, including Spain and Morocco. If you are lucky, you can notice whales passing by the Gibraltar strait if the ship traffic isn’t too heavy. Looking at the closeness and yet, distance, one can reflect about the relativity of the perspective and history. On that day we spoke to a birdwatcher observing some species trying to cross the Strait for the winter. Possibly a Honey Buzzard, according to the birdwatcher, who struggled with the unfavourable wind conditions, similarly as the BA plane approaching the landing stripe.

Nowadays Gibraltar is home to investment banks and tech companies, and the wartime and ancient history seems to be indeed a distant past. The dine out options and nightlife concentrate around the modern neighbourhood of Ocean Village full of fusion and international food options, as well as very typical pubs. I stayed there for one night only and it was enough to see the National Reserve Park, wander around the city and its historical attractions. The highlight of my stay was the Rock Hotel itself: an emblematic location overlooking the bay, serving English Breakfast on their patio where hundreds of famous people ate out, including Prince Charles, Ernest Hemingway and one mysterious guest, whose picture (next to Prince Andrew’s…) has been removed. Wonder if this may be related, and still thinking of whom could be the persona non grata.

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.

Pais Vasco – ozeano, janari eta kultura

Travel

In search of the Atlantic Ocean, nature and culture this month I was lucky to visit Basque Country. Until the very end I was not sure if the trip will be possible, due to COVID-19 still present in our lives.

With all the precautions, I decided to take off and landed in sunny (!) Bilbao. I planned this trip in advance as a part of anniversary and birthday celebration with my boyfriend, knowing how much he loves the green landscapes of the North of Spain. As well, that Basque Country is one of the places no foodie can miss!

Travelling by air was not as dreadful as we expected – Malaga airport was almost empty on that day and we almost dreamt that air travel would look like this everyday. People being respectful and keeping the distance, simple as that. Similarly, the streets of Bilbao were spacious and only with some notion of tourism (people who were, unfortunately, the only ones not wearing masks). 

Bilbao anyhow is a living example of perfect rejuvenation of the post-industrial landscape. Awarded with the ‘urban Nobel prize’ in 2010, this city is perfectly friendly to breathe, walk and enjoy life. The sidewalks are broad, the road signals signs are melting ideally with the surroundings – to the point that at the back of them, you can find a depiction of tree leaves shapes!

We were very lucky with the weather, which is mostly rainy and windy throughout the year, and thus it is so beautifully green. Coming from Costa del Sol, where the climate is probably the sunniest and mildest on this planet, but largely affected by deforestation, green spaces are more of an oasis than regularity. 

We visited a few bars and restaurants in Bilbao and regardless of the pricing range, the experience was exquisite. There is no such thing as mediocre food, nor wine in Basque Country! As long as you are flexible and let yourself be surprised – most of the dishes contain fish or seafood, which is the zero Km dish there. We dream of pintxos for breakfast until today.

We also went to the famous Guggenheim Museum, where we visited permanent exhibitions, including the magnificent works of Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra, as well as some interesting temporary exhibitions of Olafur Eliason (the light!) and Richard Artschwager (the useless piano!). 

When talking about culture, it is hard not to mention the very separate language if the Basque. I’ve been fascinated by it and tried to grasp as much of it, as possible. Since my mother tongue, Polish, is often referred to as one of the most difficult languages to learn, why not trying to pick some Basque? My favourite word spotted in public space was probably komunak. I absolutely loved the idea of naming public toiler as a common place to go to, when needed.

Apart from the city, we took some time to visit the coastal town, even though we didn’t have too much time to wander about. Thanks to my colleague, we went to a coastal town Mundaka, famous for its picturesque landscape and one of the longest and strangest waves forming at its Atlantic shore, due to sedimentation of the river floating to the ocean. This attracts surfers from all over the world to practice. On the way, you can visit the town of Guernica and the natural park of Urdabai.

We needed this break, although the times are not perfect for any further travel. We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful countries full of diverse cities, cultures, languages and landscapes to choose from, close and far. Even if we are confined again soon, we will have pictures to come back to and travel back in time. 

 

 

Saudade algarvia

Travel

This year I have decided to focus on discovering the Iberian peninsula mostly by train or public transportation, to reduce the carbon footprint. Still, I have a feeling I have been travelling a lot as for such turbulent and changing times as moving from Berlin to Malaga. This month I had a pleasure to revisit the South of Portugal for 3 days, taking advantage of meeting a befriended couple on holidays in Algarve. It was a great experience to walk around the old places and compare the changes, while discovering the new.

 

For the first night and morning after, we stayed in Faro where we were waiting for our friends to pick us up. As a matter of fact, the flat owner was somewhat related to the University of Algarve where I used to study in 2011 and we even had some friends in common. He was extremely friendly, even though we arrived at 2 am! In the morning, I took my boyfriend for a long stroll around the rundown streets of Faro, a student town with a difficult charm of being partly ruined, partly chaotic and partly ugly. We had a breakfast consisting of tosta mixta, coffee and orange juice in Seu Cafe – a cult place opened for almost 24/7, making it legendary for the local student scene. I couldn’t resist the famous pastry from Algarve: chocolate salami being the sweet of choice.

After our friends joined us, I had a plan of having a laid-back picnic at the Pego do Inferno which proved to be the saddest part of our journey. Apparently, thanks to travel blogging and related (I find myself to be blamed too), this place is completely destroyed. The crystal clear waterfall waters are nothing more than a stinking pond, and the green path around it is destroyed by fireplaces – probably the global warming effect, or even more probably: the effect of stupidity of tourists…

Not to worry, we went to the Praia da Marinha, a typical Algarvian beach surrounded by the rocks and coral reefs. Our friends were very well prepared in the body boarding and snorkeling equipment so we had a lot of beach and ocean fun. I finally convinced my boyfriend to buy a floating unicorn (even though we avoid buying plastic…) – which made our stay at the beach hilarious.

The next day we decided to go to a more surf-type beach near the Praia Grande/Praia dos Pescadores where the waves and wind were perfect for all types of surfing and nearby, there was a birdwatching place, but unfortunately we did not manage to spot any flamingo out there. In the evening, we booked a fantastic restaurant in the town we were staying: Cabo Carvoeiro, located directly on the rocks.

On our last day we tried to book Atlantic kayak activity, but the ocean was cruel to us: unfortunately the trip was cancelled due to the ocean’s unrest. We spent our last day on the rocky Praia de Benagil.

It was sad to leave this beautiful place behind, and most importantly: our great travel companions, the reality though is that I had to come back to work. I am still grateful that living in Malaga offers me so exciting weekend getaways within the reach of 4-5 hours drive, regardless if I am on holidays or ‘just’ taking advantage of the weekends and the proximity of many amazing locations. We are already planning to return, especially off the main season and off the beaten track next time.