A Spanish Inquisition: East of Málaga

One thing I quickly discovered when I first started this blog was that reading other peoples’ was a key principle to the notion of blogging and fundamentally important if I wanted my own blog to do well. At first, I must confess I did feel rather inundated with the amount of all-singing, all-dancing, super-duper blogs that would pop up on my reader and I tried in vein not to compare them to my tiny, insignificant, feebly themed own. Eventually though, this blog envy quietly subsided and I started to pay more attention to what I was actually reading as opposed to the designs and award widgets etc.

Now, I am an avid reader of countless other blogs and my poor inbox is now drowning in a sea of unread posts, likes, weekly digests and newsletters. I do eventually get around to reading them, but I am easily distracted and often read only one before inadvertently falling down a sort of cyberspace rabbit hole – something I’m sure most of us can probably relate to!


But then we all have our favourites don’t we? As in the ones that just can’t wait to be feasted upon; the ones that automatically leapfrog their way to front of the ever-increasing queue the moment they are published. ‘A Spanish Inquisition‘ is (or rather will be) an interview series that highlights and profiles some of these favourite blogs of mine, and the clever and creative expatriates responsible for them. The series will explore why, where, for how long and how the featured expat lives (or ended up living) in Spain, with a few decent tips and anecdotes thrown in for good measure. If you’re considering a move to Spain or another foreign country then I’m sure this would be positively useful reading for you. If you’re not, then read on anyway. Maybe you’ll change your mind.

The first expat to be featured in ‘A Spanish Inquisition’ is none other than Marianne Elizabeth, the brains behind East Of Málaga, a superb blog which was recently awarded bronze in the Spain division of the BlogExpat awards and picked up easyjet’s ‘Blogger Of The Month‘ award back in September of last year. Lawyer-turned-EFL Teacher, traveller, writer, photographer and self-proclaimed arctophile, Marianne tells us about Malága, lesser-known bull runs and the importance of waking up to bags of lemons. So, without any further ado…

A Spanish Inquisition – East of Malaga

Spanish Inquisition, spain, expat, interview

Name:  Marianne Elizabeth

From:  Originally from Lytham St Annes, a Lancashire town on the north-west coast of England.

Occupation:  I was a criminal lawyer back in England, but that was then. These days, I am fortunate enough to be largely able to do what I want, which increasingly includes writing, taking photographs, travelling and blogging.

Time in Spain:  I’ve lived in Andalucía for 8 years and I love it!

Blogging credentials:  I only got into blogging more seriously this past summer but my blog, East of Málaga, now has over 1100 followers. I was fortunate to have been named “Blogger of the Month” by EasyJet Holidays in September 2012 and have recently been voted one of the top-three expat blogs in Spain in the recent BlogExpat awards.

1.   Complete this sentence:

“Spain is a beautiful and diverse country, filled with mountainsolive trees and a great road network. However, there is too much bureaucracy and not enough jobs for citizens prepared to work hard.

2.   Why did you move to Spain? Why Málaga? 

Moving to live abroad was something me and my hubby talked about for years before we finally did it. We chose Spain and in particular the province of Málaga because of the very mild winter weather and the friendly people.

3.   What is one of Málaga’s best kept secrets?

The city of Málaga itself is a wonderful secret and is often overlooked.  Most people use the airport for arrival in the Costa del Sol and then travel on to their final destination without exploring the many delights the city has to offer. Màlaga is a great city for shopping, restaurants, monuments, markets and much, much more.

4.   How would you describe the culture here? What type of people tend to thrive, and what type don’t do as well?

Spanish culture is very family-orientated, with lots of fiestas and festivals.  If you want to fit in, be prepared to join in with whatever’s going on and practice your language skills. The people who don’t fit in very well are the expats who compare everything to their home country, buy all their grocery from “English shops”, have no language skills and only have English-speaking friends.

5.   What have been (briefly) the best three experiences you’ve had since moving here?

a) Discovering tapas and finding new places to eat them!

b) Visiting and getting to know the classic Andalucían cities of Granada, Córdoba and Seville.

c) Waking up one morning during the first six months we lived in the village of Frigiliana, and finding a big bag of lemons hanging from the front door knob from our Spanish neighbours. It meant we belonged!

Spanish Inquisition, Spain, interview, expat

6.   What has been the worst? And how could it have been avoided?

Being so far away from England when a close relative was terminally ill. Even though we are less than a three hour flight away, being able to get regular/last minute flights during peak tourist months can prove to be difficult and very expensive. It couldn’t be avoided as far as I can see.

7.   How much Spanish could you speak before you moved to Spain? What’s the best way to learn?

I could only speak a few words – basic greetings, numbers and a few standard phrases. The best way to learn is to get stuck in and practice. It doesn’t matter if you get things wrong – people will help you out if they can see you trying.

8.   Money is a thorny issue for any would-be expat. Do you have any tips on working, saving, banking etc?

I would say to carefully consider your finances, think about what you really want from your move to Spain and DO YOUR RESEARCH.  How are you going to support yourself? Bear in mind there is 25% unemployment here, (and even more among the under 25s) so finding a job might prove difficult.

Rent before you buy for twelve months, to include every season. It´s very different living here full-time, as opposed to visiting only during peak holiday periods.

9.   Finally, what’s the best photo you’ve ever taken in Spain? Tell us about it!

Well, I don’t know about the best photo but I can certainly tell you about one of the most fun!   It was taken during the annual Bull Run in the village of Frigiliana. Held each June, I guess you could say this is a scaled-down version of the festival held in Pamplona each year, except they only use young bulls.  The young men of the village try to show their bravado or, in this case, how fast the can run!

spanish inquisition, spain, expat, interview
Bull running in Frigiliana

Marianne is a former lawyer, EFL teacher, neophyte blogger, petrol-head, amateur photographer, traveller, English woman and shameless arctophile. For the past eight years she has lived in Andalucía, in a beautiful area, known as La Axarquía. Through her website, East of Málaga, you can learn about the many delightful villages and towns, the fiestas and festivals, and discover what it is really like to live on the southern coast of Spain on a day-to-day basis.

Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW!

sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder
The Sierra Nevada

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a starving vampire, stranded in a faraway place, void of all human life. You haven’t fed in months– a year even*. All you can think about is getting your fix, but it simply never comes. Nary a drop of blood has passed your lips, and you are growing weaker and more despondent by the day; you are essentially ready to give up the ghost. Then, out of nowhere, a mass deluge of the red stuff rains down on your sequestered castle, and you are suddenly spoilt rotten and overcome with euphoric joy. It’s literally a bloodbath. This, in essence, is what has just happened to me. No, I am not a vampire– though I do by my own admission possess a need almost as intrinsic as that of a vampire’s for blood: snow. Living in the south of Spain and all, this may come as a bit of a surprise to you. But, I’ll have you know that not one hour to the east there lies Europe’s most southerly ski resort. If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you may have already gathered as much– I do tend to go on about it a fair bit. Moreover, it won’t have escaped your notice that this post is in fact an account of my second outing into its hoary heights, therefore rendering the aforesaid analogy rather meaningless and inconsistent. However, that first foray, while undeniably enjoyable, lacked significantly in the very thing that makes the trip all worth the while: snow! IMG_0281 There was some snow, but we were, disappointingly, for the most part dependent on the efficiency of the resort’s ever-droning snowmakers, whose job it is to shower its otherwise ice-swathed slopes with artificial sheets of the fine matter. This was more or less the précis of last season’s woeful showing too. So, last week, when my inbox pinged with the latest weather update and I saw this…

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…I was, as you can probably imagine, giddier than a schoolgirl. A schoolgirl, if you’ll pardon the faux pas, on a cocktail of glue, helium, e and too much coke (of the cola variety of course). That, or keeping in line with the original analogy– a starving vampire knowingly on the cusp of a long overdue feeding frenzy. You choose. Either way, I was positively roused by what I had seen. Several misspelt and excited text messages later, and we had a date. We would venture forth on the Sunday, when there were, according to my trusty weather update, purportedly perfect conditions: masses of freshly fallen snow and bluebird skies. The drought looked to be finally over. Then, a profoundly fat spanner was flung into the works. Saturday had been so overcome with wind and snow that the mountain had been forced to close. This was a very unsettling development indeed. We ummed and ahhd at great length before concluding that we would still go– despite having lost our driver and there being simply no way of knowing for sure what the morning would bring. We clung in earnest to the hope that my weather update could be trusted.

sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder
And still the snowmakers whir away…

Next morning we awoke at 06.30am to the sound of rain battering our bedroom windows. Not a good sign. We geared up, called a cab and raced down to the bus station with half an hour to spare– we didn’t want to be left ticketless with so much to lose. There was nobody there. This was also not a good sign, though the bus was still running, and after a spot of good foresight to call the resort’s automated phone line there was no indication that the resort remained closed. Still, anxiety overwhelmed us. Before long though, other similarly dubious-looking skiers and snowboarders slowly began to trickle in, and we were soon crammed into the back of a distinctly upbeat bus. Things were suddenly looking up. We arrived to most welcoming news– the mountain was indeed… open! Albeit not until 10am and half of the pistes were closed. This was a setback, but an understandable and ungrudgingly acceptable one considering the turn of the previous day’s events.

sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder
Good morning!

As we waited inside a ski-hire shop, the sun abruptly broke through the dense clouds, and within minutes, we were staring at the powder-drenched mountain beneath a bold, blue sky. My weather update had proven its worth. The epicness of what lay in wait suddenly dawned on us. This was going to be something pretty special. After a warm-up run spent gliding down the Borreguiles and another all the way back to the underbelly, our exploratory spirits were spiraling out of control. We simply didn’t know where to look during our second ascent aboard la Telecabína; sheer, snow-caked cliff faces to our right, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t so much as draw a glance, were suddenly conceivable, and boulders smothered in untouched, icing-thick layers of snow seduced us to our left. We were basically looking at a new mountain, and anything seemed possible. sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder I could regale you with the fine details of every run but that would be ever so self-indulgent of me, and committing to an awful lot more words. One run will suffice. It came after we had hiked tirelessly up and across the Villén ridge– we had seen various skiers and snowboarders hurtling themselves down the off-piste powder fields that lay yonder all afternoon, and had been feverishly trying to figure out the route up. Eventually we had it, and wasted no time as the looming clouds threatened to spoil proceedings. We picked our spot, and dropped, from an almost vertical starting block, into a barely tracked bowl big enough to weave out seven or maybe eight giant carves. I flew over one of those seductive boulders and met an acrobatic end as I performed two textbook cartwheels on my wild landing. But I was fine. I could have cartwheeled all the way to the bottom and come out unscathed; there was simply so much snow that injuring myself, had I wanted to, was a genuinely difficult thing to do.

sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder
Hiking the Villén ridge

And so it went on. We hiked, carved, hopped, popped and wobbled for the rest of the afternoon, lost in the zone and at the mercy of our most harebrained reveries. And it was incredible. I kid you not, there might actually be a smile permanently stretched across my face.

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Picture perfect
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Standard chairlift posing
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*I’ve an idea that according to folkloric rules vampires shouldn’t be able to live longer than a couple of weeks without feeding but for the sake of an analogy…) Who else has been up to the Sierra Nevada recently? Or any other ski resort? Have you had your powder fill yet? Do tell!

Now that’s what I call a really dirty protest…

Hurray! The rubbish strike here in Granada has finally been called off. And thank God. Until the cleansing process began this morning, rubbish heaps more reminiscent of actual rubbish dumps had occupied our almost invisible pavements. The strike lasted for a total of 13 days, and has been the longest ever since Inagra, the municipal cleaning company who pay the refuge collectors their wages, assumed concession of the service 28 years ago.

Some newspapers have calculated that by yesterday, there were more than 2,300 tons of rubble garnishing the city’s streets. That’s a lot of rubbish, if you consider that one London bus weighs give or take 10 tons, and workers, or basureros as they are called here in Spainhave reportedly cleared up to 25% of it already. Surprising really, given the fact that none of the original proposals with which the workers were in disagreement have been rectified. They will still receive a 2.5% pay cut – despite having already yielded to a previous cut of 7.5% in 2010 –  and they’re working hours will be increased by 2.5 taking the total to 37.5 per week. The one compromise is a pay rise of 0.75% in 2014, though following this salaries will be frozen for a further four years, meaning even greater hardships to contend with as inflation continues to soar.

rubbish, el realejo, granada, strike, huelga, rubbish strike
Rubbish in El Realejo

The initial attempt to end the strike came not 24 hours before the eventual deal was struck, upon which workers promptly told Inagra to shove their ‘compromise’ where the sun don’t shine. According to Spanish newspaper El País, today’s meeting, though essentially just a repeat of Friday’s, was slightly less irate, and workers were apparently ‘calmer and more understanding’ of the situation, leading to a majority acceptance of the terms.

It couldn’t have come quickly enough, considering the current downpour on the city has steadily turned the growing garbage dunes into stinking, idyllic vermin domiciles. I saw a rat about as long as my forearm scurry into one a couple of days ago. It was vile!

rubbish, el realejo, granada, strike, huelga, rubbish strike
Calle Damasqueros

At least we can be thankful it didn’t happen in the summer; two years ago when I lived in El Puerto de Santa María, there was a garbage strike in late Spring which produced a reek so pungent I retched every time I came within five feet of one of the fly and maggot ridden offal mounds. And that was just after a week.

Can’t wait to see my beloved Granada all cleaned up and looking pretty again. Ugly doesn’t suit her.

Any other expats experienced this before? What’s your view on the matter?

rubbish, el realejo, granada, strike, huelga, rubbish strike

Córdoba: A Few Highlights

I moved to Granada in September 2011 and I am wholeheartedly ashamed to admit that it took me a whopping six months to visit the neighbouring city of Córdoba. I attribute this to three reasons:

  1. The trip was just too easy to put off, considering it was so close. Very bad excuse, I know.
  2. Granada isn’t a place you want to leave in a hurry, and I won’t deny that I may have got a little bit too caught up in the magic of it all.
  3. With a deep-seated snowboarding addiction like mine, the lure of the even closer Sierra Nevada was often too compelling, so almost all of my long Puente weekends during the winter months were spent here instead.

With spring in full swing, however, I eventually got my act together and booked my seat on that bus. I was going to Cordóba at last! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a friend to stay with for the weekend, thus, research carried out beforehand had been pretty minimal based on the assumption that there would be a perfect itinerary waiting for me when I arrived (this was naïve and sloppy of me and I learnt my lesson). All I did know was that there was a massive mosque, a bloody great big bridge and immense heat. Still relatively dazed by the sheer magnetism of Granada, I hadn’t really banked on seeing much to write home about.

córdoba, puerta del puente romano, spain, españa
Me standing in front of La Puerta del puente romano, Córdoba

Well, I did, and I did actually write home about it. Now, I’m jazzing that letter up and writing to you about it, though after reading this smashing, beautifully photo-illustrated post on the city by Liz over at Young Adventuress I hardly feel I’ll be able to say it better, so I’ll try and keep it brief. (328 words and counting…)

La Mezquita

La Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
The gold and red arches inside La Mezquita. Click here for a waay better picture!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Córdoba’s most alluring treasure, or indeed with the Spanish translation of the word, this is that massive mosque I alluded to earlier. We’ve all seen mosques before – there are at least three in every major city back in Britain – but this one’s an architectural cut above the rest.

The history of La Mezquita is a complex one. It began life as a Catholic Christian church around the year 600 but was converted into an Islamic temple of prayer in 784 after the Muslims sieged the city. A number of drastic, mosque-befitting modifications were made over the next 200 years or so before the ancient edifice was finally completed in 987. Years later, in 1236, Cordóba was liberated of Islamic rule by King Ferdinand III following La Reconquista (the reconquest) of the city, paving the way for another era of change. Three Catholic chapels were added, a new nave symbolic of the renaissance erected, and the minaret at the heart of the structure was transformed into a Bell Tower*.

La Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
The Bell Tower that once was the minaret

So, La Mezquita is in fact a Catholic Christian Cathedral, where Muslims are not officially permitted to pray. In 2010, a group of young Austrian Muslims on an organized tour caused a stir by kneeling down to pray inside the tourist-packed Cathedral and then attacking and subsequently hospitalizing two security guards after they were asked to stop.

Anyway, take one look at La Mezquita and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. I said I’d keep it brief, and I’m not doing such a great job of that so far. Let’s move on.

La Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
Ceiling of La Mezquita

The Alcázar Palace and Gardens

Alcázar Gardens, Cordoba, Spain
The Alcázar Gardens

These Moorish grounds were built in 1328 by Alfonso XI after the La Reconquista and have also undergone periods of radical change, though at no point has the untold beauty of them ever been affected. When Springtime comes, the contrast in colour is quite extraordinary; plush green trees and blossoming pink flowers combined with the sandstone palace walls and the deep blue sky backdrop is sure to have any photographer salivating behind their lens.

Alcázar Gardens, Cordoba, Spain

The palace was once home to Ferdinand, the aforementioned King, and his Queen, Isabella, who has her own effigy sitting pretty atop a marble fountain in the centre of Granada. A lazy walk through this multihued maze is a must on anybody’s itinerary.

Alcázar Gardens, Cordoba, Spain

Hookah Bars

In keeping with the Moorish theme, you may or may not want to spend half an hour or so huffing away on an ornate hookah pipe in one of Córdoba’s numerous Hookah Bars (or ‘Shisha Bars’ as we Brits say). Many of these foggy enterprises boast menus longer than a cut-price Chinese takeaway’s, and some of the tea and tobacco available when I visited were odd to say the least; ‘Dragonfly’, as I recall, was the most intriguing. Or perhaps it was ‘Dragonfruit’. Should have written it down. In any case I opted for the safe route, and went with the blueberry tobacco and a cup of vanilla tea. How bold of me.

tea, hookah, moorish, arabic, spain, cordoba
Moorish Tea
hookah, shisha, spain, cordoba
Puffing on ma shish pipe


Southern Spain has long been a hub for exquisite traditional eats and Córdoba is no exception. In fact, many will argue that the city has produced a great deal of the region’s finest gastronomy. Churrasco Cordóbes (Grilled Iberian Pork fillet served with green and red Arabic sauces) and Estofado de Rabo de Toro (Bull’s tail stew) are two particularly noteworthy examples. I tried the latter during my visit and loved it. Chewy, but tasty and wholesome. Very wholesome.

Estofado de Rabo de Toro, Cordoba
Rabo de Toro  (Source)

My friend was also kind enough to take me to the alleged birthplace of tortilla, Bar Santos, by the cathedral. I was skeptical to say the least but birthplace or not, this tortilla, after a mere nibble, was on my life the best I’ve ever had- not to mention the largest. I’m no food critic but I’ll throw some lingo out there to give you an idea: enormous, warm, buttery, flocculent yet sturdy…

Tortilla, Cordoba, Bar Santos, Spain
The Tortillanic

Tortilla, Cordoba, Bar Santos, Spain

Cordóba is also where I first tried Churros and Chocolate– a gastronomical near orgasmic experience that I will never forget, though I believe this sweet-tooth indulging dish can be sampled just about anywhere in Spain.

churros, chocolate, spain, cordoba, breakfast
Heavenly churros and chocolate

The Zoo

At first I just didn’t believe the pamphlet. “What’s a zoo doing in Cordóba?” I asked my friend. She shrugged. She didn’t know there was one either. It did seem a little out of place , but after two and a half days of exploring nothing but ancient mosques and palaces, the thought of ogling a few swinging orangutans was rather appealing. And I love the zoo anyway! So off we went, and it was bloody great fun. There was a tiger and everything. Polar Bear didn’t look too happy though**.

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Tres monos
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cordoba, zoo, cordoba zoo, spain
cordoba, zoo, cordoba zoo, spain
Don’t know this one in Spanish

There is, of course, a whole load of other things to see and do in this unique and gorgeous city, but I did say I would be brief. Fail. Perhaps you’d like to fill in the blanks. What else is worth seeing in Cordóba?

*All info was taken from Wikipedia at the time of publishing

**joking (as in there aren’t any Polar Bears, not that he/she was happy to be there)

Practical Info

La Mezquita

Opening times:

10.00h – 19.00h Monday-Saturday

08.30h – 10.30h and 14.00h -19.00h Sundays and National Holidays


Adults- €8

Children between 10 and 14 years- €4

Children under 10 years- Free

Best to visit as early as possible to beat the queues and get the best photos.

The Alcázar Palace and Gardens

Opening Times:

May and June- 10.00h -14.00h & 17.30-18.30h

July and August- 08.30h -14.30h

September to 14th October- 10.00h – 14.00h & 17.30h -18.30h

15th Oct to 30th April: 10.00h – 14.00h and 16.30-18.30h

Mondays Closed


Fridays Free

Córdoba Zoo

Opening Times:

November – February: 10.00h – 18.00h

March, Sept, Oct: 10.00h – 19.00h

April – June: 10.00h – 20.00h

July – Aug: 09.00h – 14.00h


Adults: €4.50

Children between 5 and 15 years: €2.00

Students & Seniors: €2.00

Children under 5 years: Free

Spain’s actual Christmas: Los Reyes Magos

Christmas is an entirely different kettle of fish in Spain. Most noticeably through lack of ridiculously early shop window displays, painfully irritating Christmas songs and just general blatant commercialism. Nor does anybody tend to tart up their houses with twinkling fairy lights or giant Rudolphs, as is often the case in Britain and the US. In fact, the Spanish treat Christmas very much more as a religious affair. People will often decorate their homes with scaled down versions of nativity displays, or ‘Belénes’, as they are called in Spain, and gather round them on Christmas Eve, before siting down for a traditional fish/lamb supper. Christmas Day itself is generally seen by most as an opportunity to recover from the night before, and is a big day for churchgoers of course.

The most notable difference is that there are no presents given out on Christmas Day. This is left for ‘Reyes Magos’, the epiphany on the 6th of January. It makes a lot more biblical sense really, given the fact that this is when the three wise men allegedly brought gifts to a bawling baby Jesus. After presents, people flock to the town’s streets to watch the cavalcades of the Three Kings trundle through, showering children with sweets as they go.

This year I flew back to Spain earlier than I normally would after the Christmas period in order to catch a glimpse of this epic street party in action. Plus, I had a new camera, and I have suddenly become mildly obsessed with taking photographs. So it was a shame that when I actually did head out to join in the fun I had already, and unknowingly missed the first two Kings of the procession. I did manage to catch the third though. Sort of. And I was lucky enough to see some children dressed as chickens, standing on a truck, also dressed as a chicken, led by a bloke dressed as a cock…erel. There was a chicken-themed song that everybody knew the words to, and it wasn’t the chicken dance. Needless to say, I was baffled. Why is this relevant? Would anybody care to enlighten me?

Here’s what I got anyway:

King, Los Reyes, Granada
The Third King approaches
Those blurry things being hurled into the street are sweets just to clarify
A crowded Reyes de los Catolicos


“Oh here comes another Ki- oh wait, what?”
Easter’s only round the corner now anyway. Maybe that’s what it was about…
A brightly lit Calle Reyes Católicos
Granada, Christmas, Lights, Christmas Lights
Messing about with the manual light settings on new camera. I’m learning!

Granada, Christmas, Christmas Lights