El Día de Sopas Perotas

Music, Travel

I started off the first weekend of October in the most peculiar, and absolutely fantastic way, at the same time. Woke up with the loud birds and the magic morning sunrise of Malaga, and headed off to catch C1, and later C2 train to go all the way up to Alora, together with my friends who love both DJing and nature. And on that day we would focus on the nature… in theory.

The trip was sponsored by a very thoughtful initiative of the Spanish government, to grant free commuting train ticket from September 2022 until the end of the year. The only requirement to get the ticket for free is to use up the ticket for a minumum of 16 trips, after which 10 EUR of the initial fee is reimbursed. This way, people are incentivised to use the public transportation instead of their own vehicle. Which in the current inflation and gas pricing climate, makes even more sense. Well done, Spain!

On our way we did not plan much, just to see the beautiful pueblo blanco, its surroundings, ermitas, a castle and have some tapas. What we found out though, stepping out from the C2 train, was a GREAT fiesta. This time dedicated to a soup: a famous sopa perota, typical from the mountains of Malaga, made out of vegetables, white wine and bread.

Perota is an adjective describing the inhabitant of Alora, just like maño – maña describes someone from Zaragoza. For centuries, mountains of Malaga have been a rather hostile place to live, with equally hot summers and harsh winters, so the dish had bring enough calories for hard working folks. There is a beautiful homenage to La Faenera, a working class woman carrying heavy buckets, in one of the main streets of Alora.

As I’m writing this, a few day has passed since the Soup Day in Alora, and I am on my way to a completely different destination, Barcelona, on a high-speed bullet train, passing through Alora, Antequera and other familiar places in the mountain range – wondering how stunning it is that Spain combines so much modern advancements and tradition, at the same time.

On the Soup Day, we also witnessed a fascinating journey to the history of Alora, dating back to ancient times where there were no refrigerators and the food, or wine was stored below the ground, in a thickly isolated containers, now available to admire passing by the peculiar Mirilla Pepe Rosas.

My friends also introduced me to the typical, rhytmic music of the mountains of Malaga, los verdiales, famous for its rhytmic crótalo, tambourines and energetic singing and dancing. As we followed the local Panda de los Verdiales of Alora, we thought about the all-encompassing need of humans to unite in the rhythm. Be it verdiales, jungle, or house music. As I attended an open air techno party the day after, I kept hearing verdiales in the background of my thoughts.

It was not all about the sopa perota – there were local stands with wine and olive tasting (the one and only olive from Spain with a DOP signature, aloreña), pitufo con lomo a la manteca colora’a (don’t ask what is it, it’s simply tasty as long as you don’t know!), art work from women’s associations, typical pottery for the soup and much more. Day-drinking from 10 am also sounds like something one could easily do on such a day.

Instead of hiking, we ended up going with the flow of the Soup Day – from stand to stand, interacting with friendly and funny strangers, and even Canal Sur NoticiasThat later my friend’s mom watched.

We were so impressed with the town, its artwork at each step, stunning landscapes and peculiar history. Yet, we did not manage to try the famous soup. The line for 6000 portions went on for hours, making it a great excuse to party, listen to music and spend a lovely, warm October day outside.

What was so special about it? Sharing moments with your friends, spontaneously discovering traditions which have been preserved and celebrated by the generations, in a perfect sunny weather, not too hot anymore. Going to a place A and ending up in a place Z. And that in such a traditional, rural town, there was a safe LGBTQI+ space, same as the elderly, youngsters, guiris, a guy without a T-shirt, or anyone else. This is what I love about Spain: the feeling of belonging, the relaxed inclusion of whomever you are, as long as you’re respectful of others and the place you’re in. There are still so many things which are lacking, more public transportation included, but where we are now, it is not bad either.

Tracing back to the North

Personal, Travel

Summer is so beautiful up North, and this blog witnessed many times the short intensity of the season, which I explored in different locations over years. Living all the way South of Europe, it is exciting to pack light and experience the hot and sunny weather also thousands of miles away. This is the tribute to my recent trip to Poland, where I re-visited the Northern landscapes, starting in Pomerania, travelling through Warmia, Mazury, and ending up in Sejny, bordering with Lithuania and Belarus. 

I have returned to Suwalszczyzna region regularly over years thanks to my partner and his family. Each time I discovered something new, and mysterious about this remote, green region spotted with lakes. Since there is no airport nearby, we mostly choose travelling by train to get there from main cities of Poland, as I find it very relaxing to window-watch the landscapes and its inhabitants. Summertime is also a great season to spot birds of prey, waders, among the emblematic bird of the Polish summer: a white stork. It is interesting how welcome are storks, while egrets or ospreys are not. It may be a good metaphor about how certain refugees are welcome in Poland, while others are not.

While visiting the Foundation Borderland in Czesław Miłosz’ Manor in Krasnogruda, besides witnessing some impressive art exhibitions of its residents (currently hosting Ukrainian painters and poets), we could see how children are discovering the stunning, local nature through their senses. Because of its remoteness and forestal density, the region hosts hundreds of bird species, and this educational centre teaches even the youngest children how to distinguish, and protect the fellow inhabitants. 

On our way through the region, we visited Wigry National Park, full of well-prepared hiking and bike trails. Last year we almost completed a 70 km ride, failing only to immerse our bikes onto a full-on downhill ride through dense forest. Nearby, there is a famous old monastery of Wigry, with a fascinating exhibition of a daily life of its monks, including the catacombs where some of the buried ones are on display.  

Wandering through the woods, one may also find the memorials of the past. Inhabitants of various origins, religions, which settled in and then vanished throughout the past centuries. However, the traditions prevailed in language, gastronomy, and remnants of the architecture. Thanks to the work of the Foundation Borderland, we could witness the Klezmer Orchestra, performing at the White Synagogue of Sejny. Their sounds brought joy, sadness and all the emotions at once. 

Sailing on different types of vessels and boats, swimming in the refreshing, ice-cold water of the deep, post-glacial lakes, we enjoyed this short trip a lot. And quite recently, given the updates from the well-known ancestry platform, I found out that my intertwined family roots may be tracing back all the way to the borderland of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. 

Moving sand, ebbs and flows

Personal, Travel

Last month I visited Poland for an extended period of time and a series of family reunions, wedding celebration of my friends, and spending quality time after all. The timing was sensible too, as a lot of important matters happened in my family during this period. Even more so, I was so happy to stay with them for a few days in the magical place: Słowiński National Park on the Baltic Sea coast.

In June, it was still a fairly reclusive place and I managed to walk more than 30 kms on the fantastic trails next to the dunes, sea and divine forests. Słowiński National Park is a vast coastal area including the surrounding lakes Łebsko, Gardno and Dołgie, which were created from the bay areas by the ‘moving dunes’ formed by the currents, winds and erosion. There is nothingness and so many things to see at the same time. Like a perfect meditation.

Walking towards a 16 km beach trail to Rowy, you can spot remnants of the forest inundated by the moving sands and there is evidence of having at least one village, Boleniec, covered entirely by the migration of sandy dunes. I managed to explore also the forest trail towards the lighthouse of Czołpino. It offers fabulous panoramic views towards the Rowokół mountain (known for Pagan rituals), the sea and all of the surrounding lakes and forests.

Słowiński National Park means a lot to me: it is a place where my father used to take me as a child and there was literally no one in the area, as it was a remote, post-military terrain with a lot of protected areas. I saw the beauty of nature, my first bird sightings and the Baltic coast covered in the snowy and icy layer, too. It was a magical place for all my family where I spent a good portion of my summer holidays and always felt the mystery of the abandoned villages, fantasising about the life under the sand.

This made me think about the nature of life and death, and the passage of the sand, as in the time capsule. Nowadays one can wander around the swampy Łebsko lake and discover the restored village of Kluki where all the roads end and the lake water ebbs and flows to the historically preserved housings. There is nothing left from the time where the native inhabitants, Słowińcy, used to live there – only a heritage museum. Now, it’s been over 11 years that my father passed away and I didn’t dare to revisit the place which connects me so much with his memories. I felt very connected and complete going there once again, reconnecting after the grieving period.

I also managed to visit Słupsk, a town where my parents met and we had a lot of friends, so I naturally spent time with them during my childhood. Now most of them are gone, too, but the town is flourishing with culture, lively city centre and I did not feel sad for most of the stay. Naturally, it was always a beautiful town but riddled with problems.

I was really impressed how green, cheerful and beautiful restoration it underwent from the time that I remember the town as post-industrial, unemployment-ridden town not living to its full potential and fantastic location close to the sea, national park and lake district where eagles, owls and wading birds nest during the summer. I do believe the recent

I only spent four days in the area, and still realized how many memories rest within my brain for this special place. The memory of the smells of the pine forests, the feeling of the sand under my feet and blowing to my face, and the music of the sea wind, choppy waves brought up the best, childhood happiness time to me, what I needed now.

Birding in the Osuna Triangle

Travel

We arrived in Osuna the night before and set foot to explore the town itself, which proved to be very interesting, given the historical importance and quite recently, having starred in the popular series of ‘Games of Thrones’ as a mediaeval fantasy scenery. After discovering the town’s culinary and architectural gems, we went to sleep early to be on time for the exciting Field Meeting of the Andalucia Bird Society.

The morning was quite chilly, cloudy and foggy and we started to worry how this may affect our birding day. We set off onto a SE-715 road passing by the Antequera – Sevilla railroad through vast cereal fields and olive groves. Despite the clouds we could already see numerous red-legged partridges, buzzards and kestrels on the way.

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Our first stop was on the rail bridge from where we could set scopes into a very interesting scene happening at the cereal field. There was a great buzzard male displaying and above we could see a black kite approaching and foraging not too far away from the male and a group of females. Given the fact that me and my partner come originally from Poland where, despite the historic presence and abundance of the species, great bustard became extinct in the early 70s of 20th century due to DDT usage and the industrialisation of traditional agriculture. Having read that Spain and Portugal nowadays account for the majority of great bustard’s European population, we were very excited to see this bird for the very first time, and even more so: displaying! We spent some time there observing the situation until the male gathered the females closer to the olive groves, not too keen to share the details of their potential mating scene. Unfortunately, we were slightly too far away to hear great bustard’s mating calls, which may seem like exploding, flatulent sounds. 

On the other side of the road, we also observed a dramatic scene of red-legged partridges approaching the rail trucks, frequented by the speed train to Seville. Fortunately, the partridges fleed the danger and hid in the bushes, joining a tea party of wild rabbits. 

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From there, we came back on the road, and climbed up the second rail bridge, leading our way towards Arroyo del Alamillo where we took a nice stroll on the field road, which offered interesting sightings of the calandra and crested larks, singing cheerfully in their nuptial flight. An old field well attracted a beautiful male kestrel to sit back at the outpost, observing potential prey. During that walk, the sun went out, and we noticed numerous species including once again great bustards, black kite, but also stonechats, booted eagle, corn bunting, marsh harrier, swallow, white wagtail, spotless starling, blackcap, spotted flycatcher and iberican grey shrike, notorious for its horrid habits of impaling its prey. Although one may argue it’s actually shrike’s culinary art of cooking a la Michelin star chef. 

After taking this nice stroll, we went to stop by some abandoned buildings close to Lantejuela, inhabited by various pigeon types: feral pigeon, collar doves and woodpigeons. Most of us carried packed lunches and after a short stop, we decided to take a break at the picnic area next to the Ornithological Observatory in Lantejuela and skip visiting Venta for lunch. At the end of the day, the curiosity of spotting more birds prevailed over hunger, as usual!

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The Observatory is situated next to the Laguna del Gobierno, a part of the Complejo Endorreico de Lantejuela which serves as a water basin for the migrating and wintering species when the area lacks water, like this year. We all noted that this year the whole region of Andalucia has been missing the rain for a very long time, except for 3 days of showers in 9 months’ time! This is a serious ecological threat to the region, including the lives of multiple wading species. 

We weren’t sure if the Laguna would be open but a friendly employee of the site let us in for only 3 EUR/person. 

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Laguna del Gobierno consists of several basins, coming from the residual depuration of Lantejuela, using an innovative, ecological way of water management through algae and microspecies helping to clean up the water. We could see the effect of it by having various species residing at the cleaner basins’ area. I was particularly lucky to catch the flying flocks of glossy ibis, and greater flamingos in my camera lens and later on, set the scope into the following interesting species: shoveler, gadwall, pochard, white-headed duck, black-necked grebe, cattle egret, ruff. As we strolled through the area, we noticed also Cetti’s warbler calling and spotted a colourful pair of common waxbill, an introduced species from the Atlantic Ocean and Subsaharan Africa. 

In one of the lagoons we saw a green sandpiper alongside with avocet and black-tailed godwit foraging, using very specific movements of its legs to search through the mud for its food. It was a very special moment to watch this intimate scene. 

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At the end of our visit, the employee showed us his stunning photos and a taxidermy workshop, and gave us a flamingo feather for good birding luck!

On the way back we met a group of local birdwatchers, admiring marsh harriers and griffon vultures in flight, and we stopped in a few spots in search of sightings for the birds of prey and the birds of steppe. In the afternoon sun, we saw ravens, goldfinch, linnet, and most likely, an Eurasian eagle-owl taking off through the olive grove but this couldn’t be confirmed.

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Back in Osuna, we could also see a pair of white storks, so popular on the Sevilla fields, and also, a honorary resident of various churches in Osuna. The couple was preparing their nest with a lot of care, which resulted in a few beautiful pictures we managed to take. In the evening, we bumped into some fellow friends from ABS enjoying the nightlife in Osuna, and the next day, many of us returned to the first rail bridge in search of the great bustard male but without much luck.



Sierra de las Nieves – El hombre, la tierra y las montañas

Music, Travel

January marks my birthday (not to mention a slippery slope from the Dry January resolutions) and since a couple of years, also a surprise trip or retreat related to it. Knowing how much I like unknown destinations, my partner planned this year’s surprise very well, so until the very end I had no idea where I’ll spend celebrating another year of health, prosperity and being alive. After last year’s municipal confinement where we couldn’t really go on any trip beyond Malaga, this year he could take me on a road trip all the way to the high mountain retreat in Andalucia’s Sierra de las Nieves (‘Mountains of the Snow’).

We stayed at the mountain hotel at about 700 m above the picturesque town of Tolox (visited with a local hiking group just before the confinement in 2020) and I considered the road trip up above a part of the exciting surprise, leading through steep and extremely winding camino.

Sierra de las Nieves welcomed us with the fresh, almost dizzying winter air. At the resort, we learned that this area is a well-known retreat for people suffering from respiratory diseases, as well as modern day symptoms of burnout. Not that I currently suffered from it, still we treated the weekend stay as a preventive measure, indulging ourselves into the nature: birdwatching and enjoying ‘0 km’ picnics (eggs, local produce) in the high mountain air.

We met less than 10 people in total, over the three-day stay, and most of them were very active elderly hikers and trail runners. One of them, a local, looking at the majestic landscape, complained that nowadays there is very few birds of prey in the area, while many years ago vultures would be soaring to the sky over the snowy peaks. Truth is, that we didn’t spot a single bird of prey but still, very colourful and exciting species such as: a golden oriole, red crossbills, black redstart, wood nuthatch and a great spotted woodpecker. All in all, there were more birds than humans wandering which made the trip worthwhile. Not to mention the quantity of sheep and goats roaming freely through the mountain ranges.

Sierra de las Nieves inspired us to continue binge watching a series ‘El Hombre y la Tierra‘, discovered earlier this month on Youtube, from the Spanish RTVE archives. The show is presented by Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, a popular author from the 60s, who lost his life in a plane crush while approaching Alaska for the filming of his new series about the North American nature. He is considered a living memory of many Spaniards, the one who hijacked the theory of evolution to the programme even during Franco dictatorship, and the Youtube documentaries were uploaded during 2020 lockdown, maybe to cheer up everyone at home. Despite the fact that >50 years passed from some of the episodes, the stunning film techniques, the suspenseful narrative (a meme to some, nowadays) and his sheer love for nature prevailed and continues to inspire. I even considered learning an opening theme, which is a challenging symphony piece.

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.

Daylight saving time

Personal

I made it to another springtime! Back in a day, living up East/North, advancing clocks on the last weekend of March announced the long-awaited arrival of longer days, more light and beautiful spring/summer feeling around the corner. Even if snow in April/May is nothing uncommon these days in Berlin or Poland, the ritual of a time change was sacred to me almost like the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. I feel like this transition is much more celebrated by the folks born under a dramatic weather where you never know what to expect. Now, living under more sunny hemisphere where winters look more like springtime, the passage is less dramatic nor awaited, I can’t help but be happier of having more daylight in the evenings. Even more so, after not being able to fully experience the spring last year, due to a home confinement during the first wave of COVID-19 in Spain, this year it makes me wanna dance like the finest Pina Bausch dancers to experience the beauty of it to its fullest. 

This year, still going through various levels of lockdown restrictions, one thing which was not taken away is the possibility of long walks and bike rides within the vicinity. Whenever the restrictions are lifted outside of the province level, I explore the long bike rides, too. Something which I tried last month are more strenuous rides uphill along Costa del Sol, equally satisfying though. Found the magic trick not known to me before – not trying to climb up the same velocity as I use at the plains xD That’s me, always trying to go for the record speed. Also, I managed to find some hidden coastal trails alongside the rocky ‘calas’ of Torrequebrada all the way to Torreblanca, where I can enjoy walking slooowly. Especially if combined with exploring the local and exotic restaurants! I am so happy the opening hours for the gastronomy have expanded this month too.  

Some aficionados of refreshing water try snorkeling and sea baths already – I haven’t been that adventurous yet. I can’t wait to paddle surf again and come back to yachting, too. So far I’ve started with more physical activity on a daily basis. It is hard not to be active when in Malaga! Taking it day by day, step by step at a time, I feel like the fight against the COVID-19 game is unlocking the superpowers to: avoid the virus/not ruin the economy/progress against the infection rate/stay mentally ‘OK-ish’. Quoting almost line by line Roy Ayers, I find myself awaiting for this sweet awakening… 

The daylight in my life is brought by various aspects: apart from keeping the basics of keeping the physical activity/sleep, not compromising on the relationships – both with the closest and more distant ones, only due to the current pandemic circumstances. There have been highlights as well as bringing an acoustic piano home after almost 20 years of living like a nomad without a proper one thanks to my partner’s passion. Hearing those Chopin/Debussy/Rachmaninov notes once again from this beautiful instrument can’t help but make me happy. So, the daylight saving time and daylight in life is here to stay, against all odds. Because, guess what, everybody loves the sunshine! 

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.

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.

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.