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. 

 

 

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.

Sierra de las Nieves

Travel

February = springtime at its fullest in Andalucia. It is probably one of the best months to experience hiking trips in the Malaga province, and this post is dedicated to describe a gorgeous hiking trip in Sierra de las Nieves, aka Snowy Range near the picturesque town of Tolox.

I was encouraged to take part of this hike thanks to the nature- and outdoor-activity loving community from the tech world of Malaga. I love to meet new people and also get to know them while doing things I enjoy: breathing the fresh mountain air while working out over a moderate 12 km route with over 600 m ascension/descend.

The route starts at the Balneario of Tolox – and in this part of the year is very green. The scent of the forest, multiple birds and water creeks are present throughout the first 3-4 kms. My hiking boots survived walking around the ice trails on Svalbard so I was not worried about their condition.

On the way you can spot at least three waterfalls: the first one is great for taking an actual leap on warmer days, the second one can be noticed from afar – taking winding curves and thus making it the highest waterfall in Andalucia. The last one you are literally walking over a tiny bridge. Unfortunately, as the land is quite arid, it dries out for most of the months. We were very lucky to see it, but we could also be unlucky if it’s too humid: the trail might be slippery when not properly dried out after springtime rainfalls. As in Andalucia rain is rare, when it happens, it is torrential.

After 13 kms the descend starts towards the picturesque village of Tolox, one of the emblematic ‘while villages’ of Andalucia. On a Sunday afternoon, it is the oasis of tranquility. After a straining hike, resting in the local bar overlooking the various mountain ranges, up to El Torcal and Sierra Nevada while eating tapas was the best reward.

To top it up, Tolox is full of actual art, depicting the local art inspirations, naive art and poems of Pablo Neruda. I can’t help falling in love in a place like this.

Montes de Málaga

Travel

Málaga is associated primarily with the sea, and a gateway to the ‘Sunny Coast’ known as Costa del Sol. Nothing more misleading: its province is by far the tallest in Spain, containing of some of the youngest, and highest mountains in the country.

You can easily experience their scope already while approaching the landing at the airport, especially if you take some additional turns around the province. One of the first trips I’ve done when I moved here, was to hike around countless trails of the National Park of Montes de Málaga, just a few kilometers away from the city centre, and within the public transportation reach. I learned though that hiking in June is already too late – it’s too sunny and too dry to truly enjoy it.

Instead, I visited the historical Botanic Garden, home to abundant and exotic flora and fauna. This stunning scenery can be found in the Northern part of the city and is also accessible with the public transportation, followed by a 15 minutes walk. The garden hosts shelter to various bird houses: if you are patient you can spend hours looking at their nesting areas and spot interesting species. It is great that Málaga has made this garden available to public, especially that the city itself lacks green spaces.

Another destination worth mentioning is Mijas Pueblo, a little village located in Costa del Sol, about 45 minutes drive from Málaga and again, accessible with public transportation. It is one of the typical white, Andalusian scenic villages with castle ruins, beautiful town hall square and breathtaking views over the coast.

Also the trip through the winding road can take the breath away, if you are sensitive. I think that the village itself is as touristy as Ronda, and it takes its toll. I was particularly saddened by the use of donkeys for the touristy rides. I escaped the crowded trap quite soon and wandered around the hilly streets followed by eating lunch at an inexpensive, unpretentious place far away from the masses.

I enjoy the little escapes around Málaga, even without having a car for now. I am conscious that the best places are out of my reach for now, but I am trying hard not to own a car – driving though is a good skill to acquire when living on Costa del Sol and is a different story. Looking forward to bringing you more tales from the trips I will take in 2020, to be honest I have not planned anything and have no idea where my imagination will take me.

Viajeros romanticos de Ronda

Travel

I feel unbelievably lucky to live in the cradle of Mediterranean and Spanish culture, Andalusia. In the past weeks I’ve been quite busy discovering the Malaga region and I’d like to dedicate today’s entry to Ronda.

 

Located about one hour away from Malaga, Ronda is one of the most picturesque towns of Spain, and a known destination since 19th century. This is when, upon the raise of the industrial era, wealthy class representatives and intellectuals formed the group of ‘romantic travellers’, trying to find a way to the roots of the European culture, visiting the emblematic Spanish, Italian and Greek land- and cityscapes. The idea of travel was born and inspired generations of writers, painters and music makes, tired of the smoggy, dirty and dehumanized big cities of the industrial era.

Ronda remained its romantic charm until today, however, overtourism is again taking its toll here. Forget about a peaceful walk around the canyon, you will end up in one or the other organized tour, queuing to see the most picturesque spots. Instead, it is best to roam around much more quiet old town, or visit Casa del Rey Moro, a (literally) breathtaking castle-house of the Moorish kingdom, situated inside one of the giant rocks, all the way down to the canyon river level. As you go down twenty floors from atop, you can visit chambers that used to serve for keeping the slaves, armour and secrets.

Being located in the middle of the Cordillera Bética, one of the highest and youngest mountain ranges in Spain, Ronda is surrounded by incredibly romantic gradient of sharp edges, equally stunning at the dawn as at the sunset. Even though I have heard there is not much to do in Ronda for two days, I enjoyed myself simply staring at the horizon, dreaming, observing colours and reading about the useless, romantic travellers from the past and their crave for the great, classical beauty in this life. It is one of these places that words are needless to describe more, so I will let you simply look at my photos instead.

 

Asturias – Costa Verde

Travel

August is undoubtedly the hottest month on the Iberian Peninsula and I feared that at some point I won’t be able to bear with it. Apparently, Malaga was not as bad as the rest of the continent, especially thinking about how global warming has been affecting Europe in the past years. The most unpleasant days were around the second week of August where the famous Terral wind started to blow. I’ve never experienced a wind which is as hot as 40 Celcius degrees with the speed reaching 40 km p/hour – it really felt as if the air was coming out of a hairdryer.

August is also a month when the most (in)famous festivity of Malaga takes place: La Feria. It is about 10 days of celebration of the local folk tradition, including bull fighting, horse riding, and most importantly: flamenco dancing and Cartojal (sweet, strong wine) drinking. This attract millions (!) of national and international tourists every year, making Malaga allegedly unliveable. This also turned out a myth, since the festivities were distributed around the whole city, and not only the city centre, while the municipality of Malaga made a special effort to keep the whole area very clean and vigilant for common vandalism. Not knowing about these two happenings of the month were not as bad as the word of mouth, I decided to escape for five days into the North of Spain: the green coast of Asturias.

After visiting Basque Country many years ago, and Galicia last year, I was the most curious about the coastal hiking in this mostly rural and unspoilt region of Spain. Landing in Asturias, I already felt the change: it was probably 10 degrees less than in Andalucia, and I got almost dizzy with the fresh air coming from the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding woods. Quite a change after the hairdryer Terral just a few days before.  I was not too ambitious when it comes to the scope of discovering the region: since I only had 5 days, and no car, I focused on the western part of the region, leaving the higher mountain hike and the eastern routes for some other occasion.

On purpose, I stayed in a very small village nearby a more popular, touristy town of Cudillero when I only visited when in need (of food mostly). Due to its rough coastline, to visit the town, I had to descent about 700 m down with the slope of about 90%. Not to mention coming all the way back uphill. What helped to achieve this, is definitely the local food: Spaniards warned me about the size of the portions offered and they were indeed large and tasty. I’ve eaten probably the biggest and most impressive mariscada in my life in the restaurant called simply El Pescador in Cudillero, boasting a Michelin recommendation this year.

Another hiking highlight was the route called Senda Costera from the picturesque village called Muros de Nalon until the river port San Esteban de Pravia. It takes a few hours to walk through a path throughout the Atlantic forest, with a possibility to descent into the wild, Atlantic beaches.

Asturias is not only nature though, it’s also a maritime and industrial patrimony, visible in the cities like Aviles or Gijon. Although the focus of this trip was mostly on hiking (and eating out!), I managed to visit both cities – the most interesting is probably the cultural centre of Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia and simply admiring the difficult charm of the long, post-industrial sites. To finalize the visit, on a last, rainy day in Gijon, I tried the Michelin start restaurant situated in the green Asturian park: La Salgar, run by the chefs Esther and Nacho, offering amazing experience for relatively reasonable price. Overviewing a typical, Asturian horreo, tasting the local food with the creative touch, I decided I will return to this mysterious, strangely beautiful part of Spain one day again. Who knows if not to retire.

 

A rota da Felicidade – Costa Vicentina

Personal, Travel

If happiness is nature, ocean breeze on the cheeks and tranquility, I claim I have found it. Costa Vicentina is located in the South-Western part of Portugal and since many years it has been one of my favourite destinations in the world. It is still (!) not as popular and accessible as Algarve located in the south of the country and is a great destination for those who enjoy the nature, and powerful, jaw-dropping views while hiking. Not to mention surfing, which comes without saying as a consequence of such a landscape.

This year I’ve spent some time in Portugal, namely in Lisbon for work and life balance purposes in November. Weather around this time of the year can be surprising, if not hazardous and indeed, on the last day of my stay there were severe floodings and strong winds devastating almost all country including the capital. Staying connected to the weather warnings, I decided to travel to the south where the impact was not foreseen, at least for a day.

I took a national bus line from Lisbon to Lagos, calling at various sleepy towns of the Alentejo region. My first stop was in Porto Covo, a picturesque village south of Sines, known recently for a dispute against the petroleum investment, potentially destructive not only for the human but all the living species in the region. Porto Covo is the best example why such initiative should never happen – where the locals decorate the houses, palms and other vegetation and truly care for preserving their little paradise. I was very moved by the view of the colourful, winter sweaters embracing the plants, that may indeed feel cold during the Atlantic winter.

After a brief, 30 minutes stop the bus continued its journey further south, passing by vast, sandy beaches, and dramatic views of the National Park of Alentejo.

This region – famous for offering the out of this planet’s ocean landscape, but also fantastic wine, olives and cork. On the top of that, Alentejo can be discovered solely by foot. There are two hiking routes of approximately 250 kms each alongside the coast, or the interior. On the way one can discover natural and historic wonders, and encounter various animals (especially bird species, as I have spotted peregrine falcons, seagulls and jays struggling in the gust of ocean wind).

On that particular gloomy Sunday, I’ve taken a 12 km stroll around Zambujeira do Mar, another seaside town with breathtaking views. Contrary to the weather, while walking around Zambujeira, I noticed: a bunch of friendly people asking if I needed direction, street named for happiness and was welcomed and entertained by a very cheerful waitress in the local tasca. She was notably enjoying her work, unlike in the places where tourism is massive and overwhelming to everyone and offered be probably the best prato do dia I’ve had in a while.

Now, sitting next to the SAD lamp, my loyal companion during the winter months, I already fantasise about returning there, possibly planning a semi-active hiking trip from one winery to another in the upcoming year, combining physical activity with hedonistic pleasure. And I’d call it A Rota da Felicidade (The Happiness Route).

 

Saudade at the tip of Europe

Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

I returned to Portugal for 9 days this month to reunite with my best friend at one of the biggest tech conferences, and for the change of air. Or even more metaphorically: to hear a wind of change. Nous voyageons pour chercher d’autres états, d’autres vies, d’autres âmes. So we travel to search for new states, new lives, new souls.

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After a particularly busy week at the conference we took off to Cabo da Roca, about an hour away from Lisbon, to the Westernmost tip of continental Europe (and oh how I like the extremes, remoteness and ends of the world).

I returned there after many years: first time I had gone there when my adventures with studying in Portugal started off and ended up quite abruptly, and secondly after my father’s death, my break up and my return from Brazil effectively. From such experiences one could think it’s a place I would only contemplate finiteness, or profound sadness. Truth is, my last weeks have not been too easy at different wavelengths, at the same time.

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Being around natural wonders, vast spaces and with people who are close to me is a one way I recover, music is the other solution. I guess this is why I am not tired of coming back to the sounds and landscapes which cure the soul, and constantly searching for the new ones as well. Hence I still curate Lusofonetica after over 4 years and return to the positive side of life eventually. Like in this beautiful song:

Não me deixe só
Eu tenho medo do escuro
Eu tenho medo do inseguro
Dos fantasmas da minha voz

Despite the darkness this season, various insecurities and ‘ghosts’ in my head, I still write up about the beauty of things in life I have seen and hope to see again, enlightened by the SAD lamp in my Berliner apartment.

At the tip of Portugal, the sun was shining, the sound of waves crushing magnificent rocks brought me to a state of meditation, tranquility and strength at the same time. There’s undoubtedly magic in places at the end of the world, causing our exploratory imagination to move further and remove the artificial obstacles.

After this trip I just hope this winter will be transformational to me. I see the sun.