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.

Cinematic dreams of Guadix

Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sentimental journey back to Sevilla

Personal, Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Día de Andalucía en Córdoba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Feliz Malaga!

Personal

I am ending this year on a very positive note. It wasn’t the easiest and it was also a life-changing year yet everything seems to have gone well at the end. I am very happy I spent the last days of 2019 among my nearest and dearest in my new home: Malaga.

For a start, I have avoided seasonal light deprivation and for a change, I am amazed by the fantastic, relatively long and sunny days, impressive sunrises and sunsets and festive lights in the night. Secondly, and this is already the practice from many previous years, I signed out from the Christmas consumptionism and craziness. The craziest being listening to local, traditional Christmas carols which was a profoundly heart-touching experience. With my dearests we reject presents and we gift each other with quality time, cooking food we like or visiting new places to eat out as well as going to classical music concerts. This is so much more memorable than spending money on gifts no one really needs or expects. For a change, you create prevalent memories.

Weather in Malaga helps staying active, for instance enjoying long walks and sports at the beach. It is obviously fun to watch overly enthusiastic tourists laying on the beach in bikinis or taking a plunge in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, I can understand it, if you come from a sun-deprived country and want to make the most of it. I can say the record high during Christmas was about 24-25 degrees Celcius.

I have been working all these days, but at my own pace, often taking breaks to take care of myself and my loved ones, which is my mom and my partner. For the past weeks I’ve done most of my health check ups and I am so glad to find out I am healthier than ever and feeling energized. I feel very accomplished professionally, I am proud of having built an amazing, high performing and healthy team and looking forward for more to come in 2020. Also, to taking holidays and recharging more often, which kept me healthy so far as well.

Last but not least, I want to share my love, happiness and energy with everyone else who may lack it in this turning point of the month, year, or decade. I have been there and there are always a brighter days coming up. I didn’t plan anything special for tonight, as last night I spent a lovely evening with friends and I don’t feel I need to do anything else this year, I already feel great with all that happened.

2020 plan? Again, nothing special to ask for and still, so much to ask from yourself. Staying on the right trajectory with my North Star being: wellness (in all its aspects), integrity, love for the closest ones and for the rest of the universe, keeping the mind sharp and open for whatever is about to come.

On a closing note, attaching one of my favourite mixes coming from 2015 New Year’s set at Plastic People coming from Floating Points and Four Tet ❤

 

Autumn scapes in Segovia

Travel

I love the fact how fast you can travel around Spain. I am very privileged to be currently living in the city with a high-speed train connection with most of the country, Malaga. Even though it is one of the Southernmost cities in Europe, within 2,5 hours ride you can be in the centre of Madrid, in a completely different setting, and this time of the year, it is especially visible.

For years I’ve been dreaming to escape the European wintertime and November gloominess, and darker, shorter days. What I miss though is the change of the leaves and how they dance in the sun.

That’s why, and for a few other reasons for the November 1st long weekend weekend we have chosen to travel to Segovia near Madrid. I have already visited Toledo and Segovia was recommended to me like its Northern sister, beautiful and charming in a different way.

On the way to Segovia from Madrid you pass through one of the longest mountain train tunnels in Spain, and at its opposite end, seasons and landscapes completely change from Castilla to León. As we descended from the Ave train, the difference in temperature between Malaga and Segovia was more than 15 degrees Celcius!

Our first impressions of Segovia was its elegant sepia colour, matching the surrounding rocky mountains of Castilla. Even if Segovia’s historical sites date back from Roman times to Baroque, it seems this colour keeps the continuity of the story behind the city. We stayed at the Parador, which is monumentally overlooking the city panorama where you can obseve eagles on the treasure hunt.

On my first day I hiked around the surroundings of the Parador, in the valley of Eresma river. There are plenty of monasteries nearby, adding to the mistery of this neighbourhood. There is also an interesting numismatic museum called Casa de la Moneda, showcasing the story of the Spanish capital.

From afar, one of the most impressive buildings is the Roman aqueduct, still in use, providing potable water to the city and its surroundings. Everywhere you go, you can see the water flowing from the wells or fountains. As I followed the hiking train around Eresma river, I fell in love with a sleepy neighbourhood of San Lorenzo where you can eat out at local bars, trying tortilla de escabeche and wine early in the morning, and spot a sculpture of the laundress.

Multiple churches from early Gothic to Renaissance times are complimenting the monumental Cathedral of Segovia which is the last type of Gothic cathedral build in Europe. As for the ever-present monasteries, in the former Convento de Capuchinos nowadays you can eat out at the Restaurant Villena, probably the most hedonist place I’ve ever been to. Serving the local treats like cochinillo in a very creative ways with the local wine pairing, it is literally the heavenly pleasure.

Last but not least, in the Western part of the city, there’s the impressive, medieval Alcazar castle, where Isabel I was crowned as the Queen of Castilla and more trivially, it inspired Walt Disney for the depiction of the castle in the Cinderella tale.

Segovia is a dreamy, quiet place, surrounded by impressive mountain ranges and green fields. The autumn colours mixed with its architecture in sepia colour makes it probably one of the most romantic sites in Spain to visit during this time of the year and contemplate the time that passes by, like the seasons every year.

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.