Senda Litoral to Marbella – on four wheels

Personal, Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wonders of wandering

Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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! 

Springtime on Costa del Sol

Personal

First weeks of the new year 2021 flew by without barely noticing. Although COVID-19 is far from going anywhere, there are worse and better days. Fortunately, my mood stays on the higher surface, focusing on the positives, longer days and greener scapes around me. It is actually a miracle to me to call the first quarter a springtime, remembering how much I struggled with the ongoing and never-ending winter even few years ago.

For a few weeks, I have been confined at a municipal level which prevented me from any further exploring. I am not going to complain though, as most of the services remained open and accessible, at least during a daytime. Now I am back to be able to move around the province – biking, hiking and spending time around nature. Human gatherings are still rare and special – and I miss them so much. Focusing on all the things I can do right now, I focused equally on eating out as well as actively discovering the nearby spots for birdwatching (will be coming back with another post though as the best ‘birding’ season is yet about to come – looking forward to welcoming the migrant species in March!), working out and hiking. Definitely, there are worse places to be confined than Costa del Sol, especially that the springtime weather has been mild and pleasant for active lifestyle. I am especially grateful for the culinary highlights from various spots I have discovered, all the way from Malaga to Fuengirola in the past couple of weeks. Basic needs like human connection, food, physical activity and a good laugh every day keep me happy.

So, there is not much to write about, I won’t pretend, at least to report back from the extrovert’s perspective. While staying confined, there are days which blend into the same routines and I am trying to keep my inner happiness about the fact that I have an interesting job, plans to look forward to and I know, I will be travelling and socializing again, at some point. As there are not so many external triggers and inspirations, my creativity stays quite low-key too. This is OK, and instead, I read a lot and watch the quirkiest facts about life possible, embracing the introvert and YOMO part for another year while increasingly gathering the ideas to explore once the restrictions are lifted. The springtime energy is definitely surrounding me, even though it comes out slowly.

Waking up with the blackbird’s song, watching the sun rise over the distant Sierra Nevada and set over the shores of Morocco makes me dream about the escapes I will once do. So far, the flights to and from Spain have been cancelled until mid-May. I look forward to the days I will be able to hit the road again, leave the city, province, country and lose the track of time and space.

Goodbye, hello

Personal

Be careful what you wish for. Or otherwise, be grateful for whatever comes your way. I am not really in a mood to comment on the reality, summarizing 2020 or opening 2021 with big thoughts, as I really, truly don’t know how to put it in words, or what to expect. Instead, I would like to share some reflections from the past weeks when I took time off and spent it among the people I love.

First of all, my mom managed to arrive to Malaga safe, sound and with a negative PCR result, of course, while I have imposed on myself self-quarantine about 10 days prior to her arrival. Comparing to the gloom, cold, and loneliness she would face in Poland, as due to COVID-19 she has not seen a single friend nor family member in 3 months, we both decided that the weighed risk is worth taking, within keeping all the possible safety boundaries. In this 3 months’ period of time she had also suffered an unfortunate accident, broken a few bones and managed to recover fully which made me so proud about how brave and strong she is. We cried with joy as we met at the airport, and we were not singled out. I believe who decided to travel, did it for the well-thought reason – still, we were filmed by the local TV news when hugging at the airport.

We spent a week together, mostly enjoying long walks in the sun, cooking together with my boyfriend, staring at the sunrise every day (for my mom there have been weeks she has not left the house and has not seen the sun, November and December being the most gloomy months in Poland) and having fun. On the day she left, the vaccination programme started in parallel in various EU countries, so our wish was that by the next time we meet, she will be fully immune. Weeks after, this is still a question mark but I still hope for the best.

December and January marked also a big come back to our participation in cultural life of Malaga. One day, listening to Puccini, I cried thinking about the losses for artists around the world, and also personally, how the lack of cultural life affects my creativity, and happiness. To my surprise, on the same day, I looked up various concerts of Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra and a flamenco band offering special Christmas, and New Year’s events. I had not expected much, and left the beautiful Teatro Cervantes crying with joy. I am not a big flamenco enthusiast, but with an open mind, I was completely charmed by the show of Alejandro Zambomba and his guests. Even though the voices, strings, guitars and the dance are usually the elements that people watch out for in flamenco, I got especially blown away by the percussion section and the palmas. The other day, in a completely different musical context, watching the Philharmonic Orchestra, their team work and happiness of the spectators, I understood how much I took for granted, going out to concerts, DJ sets or galleries almost every other week back in a day.

For the New Year’s Eve week, again to my own disbelief and joy, my very best friend managed to come over from Berlin. We spontaneously invited her over a few weeks before, just in case the travel is possible and if her PCR goes OK. Getting properly tested these days is a separate horror story which I would prefer not to cover. We had not seen each other for almost 18 months, except from quick meetings when I have been in Berlin for business or in transit. I was so much looking forward to spending time with her, with no huge plans, other than taking good care of ourselves.

No plans turned out to be our every day’s surprise. On that week we cycled almost 150 kms on bikes, got nice haircuts, and visited Marbella from a completely different, peaceful angle. My friend admitted that Marbella’s Old Town was such a positive surprise, knowing the city from the news’ taglines about millionaires and their affairs. We strolled around the Golden Mile, though, overlooking the sun setting over Gibraltar and Morocco, ourselves blissfully low-key and relaxed to the max. Quite atypical to watch the nature, quiet sea, just being ourselves and talking about silly things. What we needed. We came back to Malaga, with the sun setting over Africa, and spent a lovely evening with my boyfriend, who did not manage to get his holidays for this period. He enjoyed his creative output though, trying to make the most of this situation. For the New Year’s Eve dinner we ate delicious food (including 14 grapes each on midnight, as I cheated!), laughed a lot, listened to good house music and played Azul game, only to give up after 3 rounds where we cracked the tactics and were not stimulated by it anymore.

We said goodbye to 2020 – a year worth forgetting and remembering for the humanity at the same time, enumerating events of the year that made us very happy at the end of the day. I know my experience is very special and I have been incredibly blessed and lucky, but also responsible, mindful and realistic. We welcomed 2021 in style, with no huge expectations, as the next days rightfully showed. Not to sound pompous, we live on a thin ice. Surviving this crisis is good enough and it is time to learn to enjoy small moments every day and be compassionate, with yourself and others.

I’m on the road again

Music, Personal, Travel

These days I wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the curfew, embracing my sleep patterns and natural rhythm when the world calls for patience. At the same time, I realized the usual things I took for granted in the past life prior to 2020, like seeing friends, going places grow to enormous happiness when they finally happen. 

Until yesterday I was confined to Malaga capital municipality due to the temporary movement restriction due to COVID-19, which comparing to March-May confinement was ‘light’ and indeed, I was lucky to be able to go out to the museum, concert, eat out or even see my friends. I chose to do so, whenever possible, staying outside, cooking a BBQ together, or working in an urban garden, El Caminito thanks to my friend Rosa. This way the month of November went flying and actually, there was no ‘boring’ weekend. But somehow, I missed riding my bicycle for 50-60 km, as I got used to during the sweet period prior to the 2nd wave. 

Although Malaga has a long way to go to accommodate the city and its surroundings to the level an ex-Berliner is used to cycle around, I can’t complain. I’ve actually spent some hours with my Berliner friend today, who also decided to settle in Malaga, blessing each other for our recent relocation choices. First of all, the weather is mostly fantastic all year round. Secondly, I understand the limitation of the urban design – while Berlin, Amsterdam, or London are mostly flat cities, Malaga is surrounded by fairly steep mountains and the sea. Also, riding a bike seems to be either a very relaxed, family leisure, or hardcore triathlon activity. Nothing in between, unless you choose to leave shortly after the sunrise and return when everyone else is still eating out. Otherwise, bear in mind there will be a lot of families with children on the bike lanes and general ‘congestion’. 

Going slower has its joys, too. On the Westward way, it’s got the wildlife and migrating birds around the Guadalhorce basin, fun chiringuitos in Torremolinos, and picturesque bays of Benalmadena. To the East, one can spot Nuestra Senora del Carmen chapels in the rocky coastline, and on the other hand, there is a treat to brutalists/minimalists, listening to atonal sounds of Fábrica de Cemento de La Araña. 

Reminds me a lot of Deepchord’s production from 2010, as I couldn’t find proper footage of the industrial sounds produced by this massive concrete plant, for which I often stop by around the Penon del Cuervo beach. At the end of the day, techno is an ode to an industrial revolution, and working class cities, like Detroit, Berlin, and surely, Malaga.

As you go East from Cala del Moral, and Rincon de la Victoria, you are literally experiencing spiritual awakenings every now and then. This is where I usually stop by to have a coffee, watching the waves crushing by the empty shore. Today, I experienced a group nearby meditating on this beautiful day. My meditation is slightly different, but we all agree, Sunday 13th December 2020 under this hemisphere has been tremendously beautiful. Some others decided to paddle surf taking their dogs onboard. Chapeau for the dog!

Spotting rare flowers or aloe vera on the way is nothing strange, even in December, in this ever-green climate. As the weekend fades away, and so is the year 2020, I feel nothing but gratefulness that I managed to go through it healthy, with a fulfilling life and job, and the amazing partner by my side. Not sure if this is my last post of 2020, but if it is, I wish you all a better, less dramatic, and bipolar year. In the meantime, I will praise what I feel and experience in a mindful way. 

 

I left my soul there,
Down by the sea
I lost control here
Living free

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.

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.

Málaga, olé!

Travel

Similarly like a year ago, I’ve travelled to Spain in January to take part in the annual Berklee College of Music Career Days. This year I decided to extend my stay to travel along the South-East coast of Spain aka Costa del Sol to appreciate the beauty of the spring-like winter in this part of Europe. Clear, deep-blue coloured skies made my body react with shock due to the vitamin D overdose at first.

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Interestingly enough, upon the arrival in Málaga, I have heard it’s been quite cold this year, and I remember how much the perspective is different when you live in the South or North of Europe. To me the getaway to Spain was nothing but a bliss.

Nevertheless, it’s been my third time in Málaga already, having previously visited during the acclaimed Semana Santa (Easter Week) in 2012 and Navidad (Christmas) in 2016. It’s not that I’m religious, quite the opposite, however the decorations and festivities are very impressive and would recommend anyone to experience. This time I’ve discovered how much the city has developed in terms of the infrastructure (it’s all under construction though!) and how many opportunities for tech companies have emerged in the meantime.

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Málaga, apart from being the City of Light given its sunny location, leaves and breathes the beauty: both culturally and naturally. I spent some time hiking around multiple parks and botanic gardens, Gibralfaro Hill and Paseo de Reding, amazed by the variety of plants and bird species. Such a retreat in the centre of the vibrant city!

I also discovered a few culinary highlights: plenty of Moroccan-origin and vegetarian restaurants and brunch options have populated in the city landscape. To top it up, I’ve managed to book a table at a renowned, Michelin-star restaurant of José Carlos García in the beautiful port: Muelle Uno which was not surprisingly an exquisite, white-glove experience.

Without a doubt, I revisited El Pimpi, the most famous, quirky and spacious bar/restaurant in the city centre, with a rich cultural and culinary heritage including the most popular wine and food selection of the region (croquetas!).

I am pretty sure that the history, art and climate shape the environment. For sure, Málaga with its fantastic location, historical and contemporary music and art scene, ever-tempting hedonistic earthly pleasures (food and wine in particular!) and international visitors is a great place to visit, and re-visit every time.

With that, I have nothing more to say than hasta luego! 

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