Allan and I had just completed our hike on the Portuguese Camino when we decided to explore the Andalusian region of Spain. In order to do so we limited our time in Santiago and purchased train passes southeast. Our first stop would be in Madrid. From there we would head south to Seville and Malaga …… and on a whim Morocco!
Santiago to Madrid
Yesterday we had decided to cut our rest time short in Santiago. Madrid by train would be our next destination. Unfortunately when we attempted to buy tickets on line, we found no “tourista seats” available. This necessitated us to leave earlier then expected and purchase the “preferente seats” at the station. The cost would be about 20 euros more.
We made it to the train station by 6:45am and acquired two seats for the 9:05am departure. We waited patiently in the depot with a large group of young folk who apparently had been sleeping there all night. After a very pleasant 5 1/2 hour rail trip we made it to Madrid.
We then took a taxi to Hotel Vincci Via 66. We booked our hotel the night before on Expedia’s Flash Sale. A “Flash Sale” is where you have 10 minutes to decide on a four star hotel room for 20% off. Being very tired and low on the “cafe con leche” we hit the little green button that said “BOOK”!
It was a good choice! The hotels location was city center in the heart of Madrid’s Broadway District. As a matter of fact, “El Rey Leon” was playing in the theater across the street.
Madrid is a large city with many tourist attractions. It also has a large homeless populations as well as scam artists and pickpockets. While we were getting the lay of the land a child of 11 or 12 years suddenly fell down and appeared to be crying and alone. Of course our first instinct was to help, but an English tourist in the crowd whispered it was a scam!…… and so it was. Shortly thereafter she got up uninjured and in good spirits. Fortunately, even with the distraction, we still had our wallets.
After our breakfast at the “Golden Arches” we headed down the sidewalk to catch the Hop on/ Hop off bus. Madrid being a bustling city has lots of museums, theaters, and restaurants to explore. There were also the usual fountains and statues along the way as well.
One of our first stops was at the Botanical Gardens where we strolled around for an admission price of 3 euros. The Gardens were formal with the different floras and faunas separated by hedges. This was nice since we didn’t feel in the mood for another natural history museum. We did though feel inclined to purchase some cheap souvenirs. So as we crossed the street, in the shaded walkway of the grand boulevard, there it was…. a trinket stand!! It was here that we liberated two hats for the folks back home.
The Royal Palace was up next and is a must see. This is the official residence of the royal family, but is actually used only for formal ceremonies. Otherwise its open to the public for a cost of 10 euros. The Palace is considered one of the top tourist attractions in Madrid with over 1,450,000 square feet and 3,418 rooms. Not surprisingly it’s the largest royal palace in Europe. The outside grounds were also pretty amazing. But even better yet was that the Palace was within walking distance of our hotel, so after our visit we retreated back for a mid day siesta.
Later that evening we walked toward the cinema where we had seen a movie the night before. There was a large crowd forming for what we thought was a line to see a movie. Nope! The crowd was there to see the stars of the movie “Chef” arriving for the red carpet premier. The scene was telecast on a jumbo screen above as the celebrities were interviewed. We were disappointed not to see Sofia Veragara or Robert Downey Jr. for that “selfie” photo.
Continuing on we made our way down a street buying ice cream in the 80 plus degree heat. It was close to 9:00 pm. Tapas sounded good and were! After more walking we headed back up another shopping street. There was plenty of street lights, families enjoying the night, food, drink and what’s this? Young women wearing micro short skirts, 6-8″ high heels, tight blouses leaning up against trees. Cops were walking by without a care. Evidently we had wandered north of Gran Via, which is on the fringes of Madrid’s sex district. Prostitution is viewed with a different attitude here. Even though it is not considered as a legitimate profession, it is not illegal.
When the sun sets at 10:00pm the morning comes too early. We were off to Seville by train. The Anoche train station was only a 5 minute taxi ride from our hotel. We could have walked there or took the metro , but we were officially brain dead. We knew there were high speed trains leaving from Madrid to Seville almost every hour. So this time we had no problems acquiring tickets in the “tourista” class for 78 euros. This was muy bueno since the “Preferente” class would have cost double . Duration of trip was 2 1/2 hours.
We took a taxi to our hotel Petit Palace Santa Cruz. The hotel is located in a very pretty neighborhood in the old town section. It’s easy to get lost here with the numerous winding streets. Very charming.
To get oriented to Seville we took another ubiquitous hop on/ hop off bus. This time though we had a choice between the “green bus” or the “red bus” companies. They appeared to have a very amicable rivalry. So rock – paper – scissors we went with the “green bus”. We didn’t think to check the condition of the buses. So without much thought we hopped on our apparently “delapatated” green bus. That’s also when we noticed we were the only tourists on the bus. Since we felt committed at this point, we just waited patiently inhaling the exhaust fumes….. while sneering jealously at all the other people on the “shinny red bus”. Right before the carbon monoxide poisoning took effect, our bus took off. On the bright side we could look at this as a private tour. By the way the head phones didn’t work either ….. and when they did we heard multiple languages at once….
We had a great day in Seville starting with borrowing some bikes from the hotel after breakfast. The bike seats could not be adjusted and were set low, real low, which was perfect for Marla. I looked like he had stolen a kid’s bike. It was great fun anyway and we traced the route of our Green Bus tour.
We rode along the river reconnecting with some bike skills that had been on a ten year hiatus. The river offered nice views of Seville landmarks including several bridges.
After passing underneath one medieval bridge we noticed a couple of folks practicing their rock climbing techniques on the stone walls. Ah, to be young and strong. Meanwhile our posteriors were bruised from the crappy seats and the absence of riding for so long.
The ride did give us the idea of a possible bike tour of Italy in the future. We continued our ad hoc bike tour of the old town riding through the narrow streets, sidewalks and crowded alleyways. No one yelled at us, but they probably should have after a couple close calls with some dining tables.
There are dozens of horse carriage rides offered by the cathedral and thankfully the horses were not spooked by our amateur cycling skills, or charges could have been filed. We did discover a few places to visit later. Our ride was also more informative than the crappy Green Bus tour from the day before. We gleefully plotted an illicit boarding of the Red Bus using our red headphones and a Red Bus tour map. Perhaps we will try that ploy in Malaga.
Most importantly we found a Mexican restaurant with nachos! Our cravings were answered. The English menu interpreter had some fun, describing our chicken nachos as ” the same f@@king nachos as above but with chicken…” . We took a picture of that.
Later in the evening we hiked around the maze of streets ” getting lost” on purpose. After pastry and coffee we headed home yet it was still light outside at 9:30 PM . There was now a stage set up in the plaza we would have to cross to get to our street. As we approached we could see a feather boa on stage. What? A stage hand informed us that a Cabaret was scheduled at 10PM. We gave a polite promise to return, but called it a night.
Bikes, nachos and boas, ah….Seville!
After trekking around Seville on bikes and in buses we decided to check out the long line at The Alcazar of Seville. For an entrance fee of €8.50 we were granted access to the palace as well as the grounds. Advance tickets for tours though can range anywhere up to €55.
What is this magical place? First of all, the upper floors serve as the official Seville residence of the Royal family and probably the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe. The Palace was originally built for King Peter of Castile after the Christian conquest in 914AD.
The Alcazar, which was constructed on top of the destroyed Abbadid Muslim residential fortress, is a beautiful blend of Spanish / Moorish architecture with amazing tile work throughout. Or in other words a paradise for those with a tile fetish!
We also found the meticulously landscaped gardens to be equally impressive, complete with wandering peacocks.
The Alcazar of Seville was also used as a movie set for Lawrence of Arabia in 1962….
…. and more recently Game of Thrones since this original posting.
We were exhausted today but looked forward to a sea port village. So we caught a train and traveled southeast to Malaga, a beautiful coastal city. We prefer this mode of travel because typically there are no extensive security checks. The trip was great as we sat on the train and marveled at the efficiency of rail travel. Quick, effortless, smooth tracks with an abundance of leg room. We also had plenty of space for our overhead bags…… and of course, the views were amazing!
After arriving in Malaga we checked into our budget accommodation Hotel Sur at a cost of 60 euros a night. The location was perfect with everything being within a 10 minute walk. The room was fine with the exception of no view.
We then headed off to explore the coastal side of town. We first took a stroll down Paseo de Los Curas, which is a tropical tree lined path. This walk took us toward the seaport where the cruise ships dock. The port had an abundance of shops and restaurants . Eventually we came to a light house and a wonderful playa called Malagueta. On the beach there were several outdoor cafés grilling sardines, which is a specialty in the area.
Venturing into the old town latter that evening, we came across an old art house cinema. There was a sign saying the theater is home to Malaga’s annual film festival. Next to the theater you could see Roman ruins. We stayed and watched a film in Arabic with Spanish subtitles.
We walked down the block for the morning meal having real fried eggs on our breakfast sandwiches. Most cafés throw everything in a panini cooker to avoid frying an item on the grill. Our hotel is located about 100 feet from the Tourist Information center in Plaza de La Marina and the main street Paseo de Los Curas following the harbor.
Located even closer to us was a bicycle rental shop and that’s where today’s adventure began. We rented ” Dutch style” city bikes that were perfect for Malaga. These bikes actually fit us too. No more cramped limbs flailing along the bike paths in a comical manner. We now had style and grace.
We hit the road towards the beach, and promptly went the wrong way for only about 1 mile. The young lady at the bike shop had indicated that the cool beaches were on the right and that was wrong. After a brief tour of the cargo shipping facilities of Malaga, I asked a man for directions. I stopped a jogger who unfortunately was not wearing his eyeglasses to read the map and a woman came to the rescue. So we ended up touring Malaga’s shipping docks again from the opposite direction before heading towards the cool beaches.
Indeed the beaches were very cool. Small cafés dotted the boardwalk with plenty of thatched pulupa style beach umbrellas scattered along the coast. We rode about 4 miles enjoying the view of the Mediterranean and the comfort of our new rides.
The Picasso beach seemed quiet and the day was much less crowded than Sunday. We often lose track of the day of the week on vacation, and today was Monday . A cabana worker let us choose our shade and took our 6 euros. It was well worth it. The views got more interesting as wearing tops are optional here. The young and old, the big and small had their tops off. Some we would have paid 6 euros to keep their tops on. And these were just the men. The ladies were an assortment of boob types, similar to reading National Geographic magazine. The Browns did not go native on this day.
After a hour or so we were getting overexposed to sun and boobs, well one of us was, so we biked onward. With the sea on our right hand side we pedaled on until the bike path ended. At the end we bought a snack and then headed back. The pedaling was easy and once again we shared thoughts about a bike tour for next year. That is right, after two days on rental bikes we wanted more. Part of this stems from our disappointment in the Portuguese Camino. We really wanted to hike more, and felt a little cheated. The Camino Frances had so many great trails, the Portuguese Camino did not. Also the car dodging on the roads was dangerous and not relaxing. We understand that the Camino Norte is better.
We returned the bikes and following Spanish custom, took a nap/siesta. Afterwards we headed to the cinema and then hiked up to the top of La Alcazaba for some amazing views of the harbor while the sun set. A surprise among the city scape was a bull ring nestled in a group of high rise apartment buildings. The bull fights are shown on the sports channel, and the bull does not do well at the end. This would be such an outrage in the states. You can imagine the protests and boycotts . I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but it part of the culture along with topless beaches.
Malaga is the capital city of this Andalusia area of southern Spain. It’s known for many things such as it‘s beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean, it’s historic city center and monuments such as the Alcazaba Arab citadel. But Malaga is probably best known as the birth place of the painter Pablo Picasso. So in homage to this great painter we decided to visit the Museo Picasso Malaga. With handsets in tow, we spent an informative afternoon learning of his collective works.
Shortly thereafter we wandered over to his childhood home, which is now the Picasso Foundation. We almost missed the building though since it blended seamlessly in with the other structures surrounding the Plaza de Merced. Pablo lived here until the age of 14. His family then moved to Barcelona while spending the summers in Malaga.
Even though Malaga is a fairly large city and by no means a sleeping village, we have found the practice of the afternoon siesta here. Many of the small shops and cafés close up. So in order to stay in rhythm with the city we have learned to nap. A highly enjoyable and underrated experience. Therefore, it’s in the early evening when this city “really” comes alive. We ventured out to watch street musicians, eat at almond stands, listen to an occasional protestor and avoid a clown!