Calle Puerta del Mar
Pretty street in Malaga.
As soon as it was announced that there would be a bank holiday to celebrate the marriage of Kate Middleton and the Prince of Wales - and as soon as I realised that it was the weekend after Easter meaning that three days off would get me an eleven day break
- I without hesitation booked the three days off before any of my colleagues could.
Thank you so much Will and Kate, I am so happy for you, really. You guys are awesome.
The day off was meant to be so that we could all join in the celebrations - I would be "celebrating" in Morocco.
I had always wanted to do a two-week trip to Morocco, so this break was perfect.
I also decided to take a couple of extra days off so that I could finally get to Granada, as so many people have told me how awesome the place is.
Davies and I were meant to go when we first came over but we didn't have time.
Davies then booked a flight down there a couple of years ago which Ryanair decided to cancel.
Well, the curse continued.
When looking to book accommodation a week before
Huge float being carried by about seventy men dressed like nuns.
arriving, I hadn't realised that Easter week is peak holiday season in Granada, and indeed all of Spain. There was nothing available except dorm beds for £60 a night. On top of that, tickets to the Alhambra were sold out for the next two weeks. This meant that there was no point in going to Granada anymore. Foiled again.
I will get to you Granada, one day....
Which is how I ended up in Málaga on a Tuesday night after work.
Málaga's train system made getting into town from the airport a breeze and for only a Euro. Armed with my pre-printed Google map, I then set out for the hostel from the train station only to get my curiosity piqued by the sounds of a crowd and a brass band.
Approaching the crowd and the noise, I realised that there was a procession in progress, with people dressed in priest-like robes and upwardly pointy masks with two holes over their eyes.
As a "person of colour", my first instinct when confronted by people wearing spiked hoods with holes over their eyes is to run, and run as fast as I could before any of them spotted me. However
Looking across Malaga and the Mediterranean from the Gibralfaro.
before my Ku Klux Klan evasion instinct kicked in, I worked out what the whole thing was about - the week before Easter in Spain is known as the Holy Week, Semana Santa
, where there are festivities held each night of the week.
Quite the crowd had gathered at tonight's procession and some families had even camped out with small picnic stools to watch it. The procession seemed to be a circular one that ran around the two lanes of the main avenue, Alameda Principal.
First there were young people dressed in suits carrying large sceptres before the masked people walked past, all carrying long candles. After the brass band, came the highlight of the procession - the paso
, a huge float of the Virgin Mary, lit up by loads of candles. The float was being carried by what looked like seventy costaleros
, men dressed up like nuns.
I have often arrived in holiday destinations during a local festival of sorts (e.g. Krakow
) and it's awesome to see some real local culture.
As I kept walking towards my hostel, I realised that there were thousands of people out and about, hanging out in huge crowds on the
Look at those costumes. Now do you understand why initially I was so afraid?
streets, watching all the different processions. I passed a couple more pointy hooded processions before finally arriving at my hostel.
Babia Hostel Centro is a pretty cool place. Right in the middle of the old town, the downstairs section is a modern tapas bar where locals and backpackers alike hang out, while the dorms are upstairs in this classic Spanish apartment building.
The staff were really friendly and laid back, the rooms and bathrooms were clean, and there were lockers available which is all you can ask for. And of course there is Wi-Fi which is a modern necessity, as well as breakfast.
The Dutch girls inside my dorm were getting ready for a night out (remember it is a Tuesday night) while all I wanted to do was get to sleep. Must be getting old, years of five-day working weeks sapping all the youthful energy I once had.
I went for a walk around town as I usually do when I first arrive somewhere, to familiarise myself with the town layout and to buy some water and food. Like a lot of old towns, the buildings are tightly packed together and pedestrianised and Malaga's is lovely - a
Malaga's giant cathedral.
blend of old and new. With all the festivities, it really reminded me of my trip to Valencia last year for Las Fallas, another crazy regional Spanish festival.
I ended up buying a local delicacy from a dessert bakery - a donut/lamington-like cake which had been doused in local brandy and wine and covered in sugar. It was delicious - a perfect nightcap.
I have to say that the Spanish really go all out for their festivals. Walking down one of the main streets the next morning, Calle Marques de Larios, there was a huge temporary stand erected at the top of the street so that people could sit down to watch the processions. Every balcony was covered in a red cloth with gold trim so that all the buildings had a sense of uniform. Fresh flowers adorned every lamppost. The streets were a hive of activity - I indeed wondered if anyone actually worked during Semana Santa.
Just around the corner from Calle Marques de Larios was the cathedral. Like every other city in Spain, the cathedral was massive. The cathedral amid all the festivities really drove home the influence that the Catholic church has had, and still
Roman amphitheatre, and behind it, the Alcazaba.
has in Spain. 76%!o(MISSING)f the population are Catholic.
A short walk from the cathedral is the Teatro Romano - the old Roman amphitheatre that has been pretty well restored. As part of the Semana Santa activities there was a brass band playing for free right in front of it - they were very good. The theme from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
was probably the highlight, and reminded me of my concert band days back at high school. No, I did not go to a band camp.
Almost directly above the Teatro Romano is Alcazaba, a Moorish fortified palace built during the 11th century.
Much of the Alcazaba has been restored and the gardens and fountains within it's walls are well-kept. You can still walk along the ramparts and up some of the towers - it's always fun exploring old castles and palaces.
Further above the Alcazaba is the Gibralfaro, an ancient fortress built by the Phoenicians. In the 14th century, the Moorish king Yusuf I built most of what is seen today over the original Phoenician foundations.
Much larger and less mazy than the Alcazaba, the Gibralfaro's higher elevation also gives it some spectacular views over Malaga and the Mediterranean. The highlight
Palace Inside The Alcazaba
Where the governor of the town stayed, protected within the walls of the Alcazaba.
would've been walking the ramparts which is something I have always enjoyed doing since the first time I did it in Dubrovnik
. The museum in the middle of the complex on Malaga's history was also quite interesting.
The Gibralfaro is quite a long way up the hill and in hindsight I perhaps shouldn't have walked up there with my ankle injured, but hey, I'm on holiday.
I then passed through the lovely Jardin Pedro Luis Alonso and past the yellow town hall on my way to the final sight of the day - the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso was of course born here in Malaga and in the museum resides a large collection of his paintings and sculptures. Such is the fame of Picasso, that there was a 20-minute queue to get in late in the afternoon. Housed in an old palace with a delightful courtyard, the exhibits are arranged in a quasi-chronological order.
I am by no means an educated art critic, but I thought that his initial, more traditional paintings were awesome. The detail he was able to achieve with just strokes of a paintbrush was astonishing and reflected an extraordinary talent. Moving onto his abstract stuff, I
The Picasso Museums exhibiting many of the great man's paintings in his birthtown.
could see what he was trying to do but I found it difficult to appreciate them as much. The way he represented real-life objects in a different way was revolutionary but I thought that his traditional paintings really showcased his skill and I found them easier to relate to.
Once I was finished with the Museo Picasso, I was pretty much out on my feet.
I rested for a couple of hours back at the hostel before asking one of the workers there about a good place to watch tonight's main event - FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in the Cope del Rey, of course.
"Right here", he said. "We will project the game against that wall", he said, pointing to a large wall in the corner of a bar. Excellent, that makes things very easy.
Before the game however, I had to try some local cuisine. Being a coastal city, I just had to try the local seafood.
I sat myself down at a table at Bar Lo Gueno, apparently somewhat of a local institution. I was disappointed when the waiter told me they had run out of the Malaga Seafood Selection however. Instead, I went for a
plate of fried anchovies and some fried pulpo
The anchovies were very nice - not salty like a lot of anchovies - and the octopus was very ocean-tasting. The octopus, truth be told, was pretty hard going and I didn't finish it.
The waiter was very friendly, and he appreciated the tip I left him. De nada mi amigo!
Then it was back to the hostel for the big game.
Quite a crowd had gathered and I was relieved that the owner was a Barca fan, as I hate Real Madrid. I got talking to one of the owner's friends who was also a Barca fan. With my limited Spanish, I managed to say; "Mourinho es bien entrenador - pero Mourinho es pajero!"
My Barca-supporting friend responded with a roar of laughter and approval, although I wasn't quite sure whether it he was laughing at my attempt at Spanish, or whether he was laughing in agreement with my statement about how Jose Mourinho's magnificent coaching capabilities are offset by the fact that he is a wanker.
Many people in Spain, especially the older generations, know very little English as opposed to many countries in Europe. And with their
Fans watching Real Madrid beating Barcelona 1-0 in the Copa del Rey.
many traditions and festivals, it's awesome to see how strong their sense of local culture is here, and to experience it first-hand. After I left Spain the first time in 2007, my Spanish had got pretty good as a result of lessons and practice. While I still remember enough fragments to just about get by, my experience here in Malaga has really motivated me to re-learn my Spanish. Just think - with fluent Spanish, I will be able to communicate with millions more people that I could not communicate with before. Just thinking about that is motivation enough.
Anyway, the supporters inside the bar were 50/50 - and the banter between the two sets of fans was fantastic, with not a shred of ill-feeling in evidence. Attempts at such banter with opposing fans in England would likely lead to a fight - not so here in Spain as both sets of fans laughed away with each other, enjoying the match. It was great to see. The banter didn't stop both sets of fans from celebrating with full vigour either - there was absolutely no fear or threat of violence or reprisals - and you can't say that any of the
Plaza del Toro
The bullfighting ring.
supporters here were lacking passion either.
As for the game itself, Barcelona looked a bit jaded and Real Madrid seemed more up-for-it and were snapping into challenges. Pedro had the ball in the net - only to be ruled offside - and the game was eventually decided by Ronaldo's extra time winner, leading to rapturous scenes in the bar from the Real Madrid supporters, who celebrated as if they had just won the Champions League. The result certainly gave them cause for optimism ahead of the two legged Champions League semi-final against the same opponents in just a week's time.
Overall, I liked Malaga. It often gets slagged off as just being a Ryanair/easyJet port, but there so much more to the town than that. The mood here is very relaxed and unpretentious and the people are friendly. Sure there may not be as much to do and see here as other cities but it certainly kept me well-occupied for a day. The old town is nice and pretty and the place is a great place to chill out and indeed go out - there was a slew of nightclubs just around the corner from the hostel and indeed
Nice thematic courtyard in the middle of the old town.
one right next to it.
However, I will be leaving this continent for Africa tomorrow - a short boat ride across the Mediterranean to Africa and Morocco. Destination: Tangier.
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