Tag Archives: Spain

granada, spain alhambra, carmen de la victoria

How I Fell For Granada

Let’s turn back the clock:

It’s puente weekend at the end of February, 2011. Less than a week ago I didn’t know the first thing about Granada, besides that it was a city somewhere else in Andalucía and it shared a name with a UK-based TV broadcaster (naïve, ignorant, blah blah yes I know). Then, as our cherished puente approached, a teacher I worked with in El Puerto de Santa María suggested I visited for a long weekend, and take advantage of the region’s very own ski resort. ‘A ski-resort in Spain?’, was my first thought. Surely not…

One Google search later and I was booking my bus tickets and accommodation for the weekend. This was potentially a dream come true for the year ahead: stay in Spain, continue learning Spanish and go snowboarding regularly. A lot was riding on this trip.

I begin the weekend by sauntering up to the Alhambra’s public viewing area to take in the fabulous views below. The bustling El Mirador de San Nicolas– Granada’s most popular lookout –sits atop the historic and maze-like barrio of El Albaícin across the valley. The flashing (of cameras) is relentless; the view must be even better where they are.

img 0323 copy How I Fell For Granada

El Mirador de San Nicolas

img 27611 How I Fell For Granada

El Albaícin seen from the window of the Mexuar in the Alhambra Palace

Inside the palace, entry to which isn’t free but an equitable €15, is the intense and fascinating history of Moorish Granada, embossed within intricately carved walls, ceilings, marble-glazed fountains and centuries-old, storytelling paintings.

Such architectural ingenuity, I later discover, extends to the rest of the city; the Cathedral, hidden within the maze of pedestrianised streets side-streets, is as large and impressive as any in Spain, and an arched doorway to a cluster of official-looking offices are cast in the archetypal Moorish style.

blog2 How I Fell For Granada

Granada’s Cathedral

That night it becomes evident that the nightlife is a pretty big draw too. I meet a friend who is determined to show off the city’s gastronomic prowess. The bubbling and Moroccan-faced Calle Elvira off Plaza Nueva is the choice of locale, and we eventually settle on trendy looking tapas bar Babel (C/ Elvira 40), which promises ‘a world fusion of flavours’. “What do you recommend?” I attempt in my best Spanish. “The octopus or the chicken fajitas” the cheery waiter replies in English. “But why not try both? All tapas come free with each drink!” He has a point. In fact, any tapa in any tapas bar comes free with each drink. Thus, dinner, along with three swills, costs me about €6.

img 0739 copy How I Fell For Granada

Tapas: Shawarma de Pollo, Papa Yunnani y faláfeles

I soon discover that filling up on tapas is especially important if you plan on having a night out in Granada. Bars and clubs stay open until dawn and it’s generally considered bad form to call it a night before 4am. It’s tempting to plough through and see where the night takes us, but we think better of it; tomorrow, we are going skiing.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range provides the striking backdrop to Granada, and serves as the region’s year-round adventure playground. Summer attracts climbers, hikers and mountain bikers to the rolling hills of Las Alpujarras, whereas winter brings multitudes of skiers and snowboarders, who either make the 45-minute drive from the city or travel epic distances to spend the day carving their way through the 3,393m high and 118 piste boasting ski-resort.

img 0947 copy How I Fell For Granada

Sierra Nevada Ski-resort

We are going in April, when conditions are slushy but almost warm enough to ski in just a t-shirt. We don’t, choosing instead to sweat profusely beneath our numerous layers before the day climaxes with a litre-sized jar of beer and a platter of €1 priced mini baguettes at 100 Montaditos (Plaza de Pradollano).

My second evening is almost a mirror image of the first, except this time I allow myself to carry on into the morning, at which point I have got very lost, my phone battery has died and I’ve lost everyone from the hostel.

After an hour or so of stumbling around in the dark, I  still haven’t found my hostel, but I do come across a signpost for El Mirador de San Nicolas, the viewpoint that has alluded me until now. So off I go to watch the sun rise over The Alhambra, and decide, there and then, as a local drunk man attempts to speak to me in entirely incomprehensible Andaluz between swigs of his flat and lukewarm-looking litro, that I would make no mistake about it: I am going to live in Granada.

malaga, andalucia, spain, malaga food

Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

Some of the most popular points of interest for Málaga visitors include the year-round warm temperature and the beaches of Costa del Sol. While the climate and beautiful scenery are certainly a draw, these days more people are flocking to the area for an entirely different reason.

In the last few years, Málaga’s fine food scene has exploded, rivaling some of the most iconic food destinations and attracting self-proclaimed foodies from all over the world.

The Guardian featured an article last year describing Málaga’s budding reputation and just how quickly the area has gained notoriety for being the “food hub” of southern Spain when it comes to produce and dining.

2624283448 82c35140bb b Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

El Campo, Malaga (Source FlickrCC: Cayetano)

As Fernando Rueda, sociologist and food historian, explained to Guardian writer Chris Moss, “Málaga has fantastic sardine and boquerón [anchovy], amazing shellfish, tropical fruits like mango and avocado. It has the last cane honey [molasses] to be produced in Europe. It’s the second most mountainous area in Spain and has all the climates and conditions you need for every kind of produce.”

As explained by British Airways, farmers in Málaga are able to take advantage of tropical growing conditions in some areas, as well as more temperate climates in others. This allows them to raise a variety of vegetation and livestock. In fact, some of the most important goat-breeders in Europe even call the area home. Over 95 percent of their goats’ milk is used for cheeses across Europe. It’s also one of the biggest contributors to the worlds supply of olive oil, over half of which is produced in within Andalucía’s boarders.

2615505099 1676e20000 b Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

Boquerones (Source FlickrCC: Boca Dorada)

It wasn’t always the food hotspot is to today though. According to Rueda, it wasn’t until recently that Andalucíans started to talk about their cuisine and offer it to visitors with pride. He noted that in the past, restaurants were more eager to please tourists by offering only a few regional dishes, because they were “associated with the past, and with being poor.” That’s completely changed, however, thanks in part “the return to democracy,” and it’s led to the realisation that the “cuisine is part of Andalucía’s identity, its culture and the landscape its people see every day.”

Nowadays, Andalucía embraces its local cuisine, and visiting food lovers couldn’t be happier. Authentic dishes celebrate the area’s mix of Spanish and international gastronomy, such as Gazpacho (a cold tomato, garlic and onion based soup with varieties including Porra Antequerana, Salmorejo, and Ajoblanco among others), Boquerones (fried anchovies), and Gachas Malagueñas (a dessert of fried bread served with a sweet syrup mixture).

2697455468 d2b6f288d8 b Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

Gazpacho (Source FlickrCC: Chip Harlan)

If you’re lucky enough to visit one of Málaga’s beautiful beaches and treat yourself to a mouthwatering order of Gachas Malagueñas, do yourself a favour and savour every mouthful with a glass of sweet wine. Málaga’s sweet white wines are known the world over for being some of the most indulgent dessert varieties around.

6177618256 5d2e38fff3 b Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

Sweet Malagueño Vino (Source FlickrCC: MG Spain)

Málaga certainly shouldn’t be considered as just a quick stopover before your flight home. The food on offer is proof enough of that.

las alpujarras granada andalucia

Life is what we make of it. Nothing’s forever.

Circle time: I’ve been going through a rough patch.

I hadn’t realised until going home for Christmas, but I’d lost my way here in Granada, a city I have known and loved for quite a long time now. I just wasn’t excited anymore. I wasn’t waking up extra early to spend half an hour sipping a relaxing cup of café con leche on my terrace before going to work, or eavesdropping on random crusties in the street to amuse myself and brush up on my comprehension of andaluz. I could count my Spanish friends on one hand, and probably the number of minutes per day I’d spend speaking Spanish on the other.

Not good.

I needed to change; to break the mould a bit; to get out more; to burst the ‘guiri bubble’, as it were. But most importantly, I needed to rediscover where I live and start appreciating it again.

Hence the lengthy period of inactivity on this here blog of mine. Well, that, and a fruitless, exasperating 3-week wait for Vodagroan to get their act together and install internet in my new apartment. They didn’t in the end– and I won’t go into why or else the point of this post will be lost –but let’s just say they are a bunch of silly knobheads and I won’t ever be knocking on their door again.

Now I am back online and raring to blog, after using these last few weeks to collect my thoughts and turn my stagnating expat life around.

So…

I’ve got a new job (on top of my teaching job), a new place (with a proper contract!), a new housemate, a few new Spanish-speaking friends, I’ve returned to studying Spanish (properly this time) and I’m single again. Oh, and I’ve started eavesdropping on crusty Spanish hippies again too.

It feels fantastic, if a bit peculiar.

I’ve been here almost four years, and I suddenly feel born again. My enthusiasm for all things Spain and learning/speaking Spanish has come rushing back, and I am determined to make the most of what time I have left in Granada.

The recent deluge of snow we’ve had will undoubtedly play a key role in this over the coming weeks. Right now, the Sierra Nevada is covered in an almighty white coat, all the way from top to bottom. I’ve never seen it look so brilliant. I’ll be getting a much closer look this Saturday hopefully.

10959676 10155129344360654 8982963753487321175 n Life is what we make of it. Nothings forever.

Granada with a light frosting. (Credit: Nick Player)

10959701 10155129296335654 5339497087177934443 n Life is what we make of it. Nothings forever.

Granada’s Sacromonte bario looking even more spectacular (Credit: Nick Player)

I’m relieved to have turned a corner, and grateful that I realised I needed change when I did. I suppose it goes to show that we can all get too comfortable and monotony can set in, no matter where we are in the world. At first it can feel like continuity; progression; healthy routine. But if we are not careful these routines become stifling and hugely damaging to our overall experience of a place we probably won’t call home forever.

Life is what we make of it, and nothing’s forever.  That’s my motto from now on…

snow in andalucia, spain, nieve, granada

Proof that it snows in Spain!

Snowfall in Granada’s sky-scraping Sierra Nevada mountain range is hardly surprising at this time of year, but to see it bucket down at ground level like it did yesterday is most unusual.

As a group of us were making our way back from Almería along the winding A-92 highway, the clouds descended and raindrops slowly turned into snowflakes. Five minutes later, our outside environs were blanketed with a layer of snow, creating a stunning scene that we are rarely treated to here in the south of Spain.

image6 Proof that it snows in Spain!

image5 Proof that it snows in Spain!

It was almost as though we were driving through the Alps or along the TransCanada highway; the coated pine trees that stood either side of us do not grow in abundance in the Sierra Nevada like they do at ground level, and the steep hillsides beyond completed the picture perfectly.

image4 Proof that it snows in Spain!

My thoughts turned to the Sierra Nevada ski resort, which has suffered the worst start to a season in six or seven years. “Oh the powder! Think of the fresh powder up there!” I exclaimed to my travelling companions, none of whom give a toss about powder. “Never mind”, I conceded, and drifted back to my happy place.

img 02911 Proof that it snows in Spain!

Hiking the villén ridge in the Sierra Nevada

Of course ten minutes later the snow had turned back into rain and the scene had suddenly disappeared, but those ten minutes were more than enough to instigate a case of ski-bum fever, which is, of course, the reason I ended up in Granada. Now I am relishing the day I finally get to dust off my barely used snowboard, pile into a friend-filled car and go have myself a day of awesomeness up in the snowy (and powdery) mountains.

Sod’s law that it should snow on a Sunday though, meaning that by the time next weekend comes around this fresh dump (ski-bum jargon) will but all have melted or frozen. But disenchanted I am not, for this, I am sure, is a sign of things to come!

It seems at last the season is officially underway…

image2 Proof that it snows in Spain!

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

I’ve often thought about where else I’d consider living in Spain if the right opportunity came along. A couple of years back I was wrestling with the idea of moving just for the sake of it, but then concluded that that was as pointless as it was reckless. I feel I’ve now reached a point in my life where a simple sideways move is no longer an option; if I move, I go up. That’s how it’s going to be from now on.

Currently, I am in the midst of an online-based digital marketing course run by Google, which I hope to pass early next year. So far, it has been the most enlightening, inspiring and thoroughly exciting process I’ve been involved with since leaving University. If all goes well, I’ll be on the job hunt with new qualifications under my belt, and on the brink of making that upwards move before my fourth year in Granada is through.

Ideally I’d like to stay in Spain, but realistically, that would probably mean re-locating to either Barcelona or Madrid, where I am far more likely to find something suitable (I doubt Granada has even heard of digital marketing). Yet even this is a long shot; it’s most probable I’ll end up in the UK (sob), but if everything does go my way, then last week’s visit to the Spanish capital was most definitely part one of a two-part assessment.

Madrid01 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Malasaña, Madrid

I had three days. Many of our treasured fiestas have befallen weekends this calender year, meaning that 4-day weekends have become 3-day weekends (better than in the UK I know but still), thus, my travel options have been somewhat curtailed. Still, I’d say three days is about right for Madrid.

The plan was to head to El Santiago Bernabéu to catch Real Madrid take on Celta de Vigo in an energetic La Liga match. Neither I, my pal nor any of his pals had a ticket; we’d hoped to buy ‘liberated’ ones at the stadium, but to our bitter disappointment, none were left by the time we arrived. Touts wouldn’t budge from €100 and that was for seats in row Z. Mission failure.

img 4768 e1419273571259 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

On the upside, my budget for the weekend was suddenly doubled. Back of the net (oohh irony). Thus, I could afford to properly make the most of the opportunity, and hopefully reap a more open-ended experience to take away.

I was lucky to have a friend to stay with for the weekend, and even luckier that she could afford the time to show me around a few of her favourite haunts and hangouts.

Street Art! Food! Smoothies!!

Malasaña, with its hipsterish blend of street art, vintage fashion boutiques, underground bars and buzzing cafés, was naturally my favourite spot. We spent the best part of an afternoon here just mooching around, before hopping onto the metro and heading for the famously quirky Lavapiés bario. My friend’s Brazilian friend was determined to shake off his hangover (and ours) with an imported Açaí smoothie from his favourite Brazilian café. They were, he claimed, the best in Spain. The best in Spain! How could I not join him after a statement like that? Even if they did cost €4.80 each (wince).

Madrid06 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Madrid03 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Street Art in Malasaña, Madrid

Well, they were exceptionally good, I’ll give him that. But the best? No idea. It was the first time I’d ever tried açaí (hipster confession), which, along with the freshly baked coxinhas and yuka empanadas to boot, I would definitely fork out for again. Pricey, but worth it.

I returned the following day for lunch at one of the many exotic eateries that help shape its aforementioned quirky character. I say ‘exotic’, but this is Spain we’re in– remember that. It was a Turkish restaurant, and the food was delicious, from the Bereket, to the red pepper hummus and lamb kafta kebabs. Bit better than your average 3 o’clock in the morning shawarma; pricier too though, mind. Not knocking the shawarma or anything, wouldn’t dream of that.

Madrid05 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Madrid04 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

(Free) Tapas! Hipster Cocktail Bars! Markets!

If there’s one bragging right Granada definitely does possess though, it is the famed free tapa. But hang on what’s this? Madrid has free tapas too! And the portions are MASSIVE. We’d intended to try at least 3 or 4 different tapas bars but were stuffed after two. The first was El Respiro (Calle de las Infantas, 34), where we were fed all the usual Spanish nibbles; chorizojamon, queso, tortilla etc, but in the second place across the street– El Tigre (Calle de las Infantas, 30) –I’d never seen so much free food shoved onto one plate. It was madness. The place was rammed and frankly it was verging on a feeding frenzy as we were leaving.

Who said tapas were only free in Granada!? #madrid #spain #elrespiro

A photo posted by Josh Taylor (@jtapas01) on

We finished the night off with a round of cocktails at the uber trendy, All-American diner-looking In Dreams Café (Calle de San Mateo, 4). If you go, order the Dark and Stormy; you won’t taste better.

A trip to Madrid wouldn’t be complete without a stroll around one of its copiously stocked indoor food markets. Last time I visited, I lost a good hour or two exploring Mercado San Miguel, where I gorged myself on the best olives I’ve ever tasted. This time I was taken to the new, chic and cozy Mercado de San Ildefonso, where, regrettably, there were no olives, but plenty of red wine to numb the hangover with.

Madrid15 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Mercado San Ildefonso, Madrid

Madrid16 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Surrealism!

Since this was only my second time visiting Madrid, it was hard not to do as tourists do. I visited the Reina Sofia museum, free of charge, and saw a great deal of very peculiar art.

‘Surrealist’ is the proper term. Call me uncultured, but most of it goes way over my head, which is, I imagine, what most of the surrealist artists exhibited in the museum probably intended. Picasso’s Guernica, howeverwas truly awesome, whether I understood it or not.

Madrid07 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Art in the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (shouldn’t have taken this)

Madrid08 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Living!

Naturally, the cost of living in any capital city is higher than elsewhere in the country, but it’s all relative. The average wage is higher too, though not by much I am told, and if I were to move to Madrid, one of the main conditions would be a guarantee of a higher income. Rent for a room in a shared, central apartment, from what I’ve gathered, tends to vary between €350 and €600p/m, a Metro season ticket for zones A and B sets you back €72 and groceries cost more or less the same as they do in Granada. Seems reasonable, right? (to find out what I earn, read this post).

People!

One thing that is virtually guaranteed in any major European capital is a multicultural society. Madrid is a leading example. People the world over are drawn in by the city’s enviable melting pot of international identities, and add to it their own quirks and customs. A study by El Mundo newspaper indicated that there were just over 5.5 million foreigners living in Spain in 2013, and around 12% of that figure live in or within the surrounding areas of Madrid.

Madrid09 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Arbol de Navidad, Corner of Parque de Retiro, Madrid

It’s not that I wouldn’t begrudge living in an entirely Spanish community; I just love being around people from different walks of life, who, just like me, relocated to Spain for the hell of it. During my stay I met folks the UK, France, Italy, Turkey, Brazil, New Zealand and (of course) Spain, either through friends or by chance. Granada has its own population of extranjeros but many of these– at least the ones who come out to play –are part of the University’s erasmus programme; not there to work like they are in Madrid.

Madrid10 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Madrid14 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Madrid13 Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

Arbol de Navidad, Gran Vía, Madrid

So, could I live in Madrid?

I love visiting Madrid, but to live there would take some getting used to, that’s for sure. However, providing I am there for the right reason and she doesn’t try to fleece me at every chance she gets, I think we’d get along just fine. Whether Barcelona and I would get along better remains to be seen…

malaga christmas lights, spain, spanish christmas

It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

Time for a festively themed guest post…

The beach season is well and truly over and most of the tourists have gone home but as many of the coastal resorts virtually go into hibernation in winter time, the city of Malaga comes to life.

Every year hundreds of thousands of Euros are spent on a fantastic display of Christmas lights and 2014 is no exception. People come from miles around to see the famous Malaga lights, enjoy the excellent winter weather Southern Spain is famed for and to take in the festive atmosphere.

The last Friday of November is usually when the lights are first switched on and traditionally this is the when the majority of people head into Malaga. Calle Larios and the area around Plaza de la Constitutión are the main attraction as a live band performs next to the huge Christmas tree which towers over the plaza.

xmas tree malaga 2 It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

In December, Malaga really comes into its own and yes… I know I mentioned the ‘excellent winter weather’ earlier; it was actually a very wet and rainy Saturday night when we took the short train ride into the city to join in the festivities.

A bit of rain clearly doesn’t put the Malagueñans off as every bar and restaurant appeared to be packed with young locals enjoying tapas and catching up with friends, and this was early evening before the lights had been switched on.

la plaza tapas It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

Tapas in La Plaza

So we wandered through some of the familiar streets and discovered some not so familiar little streets, that’s the great thing about this city, no matter how many times I come here I always find something or somewhere new.

Some of the coolest hang outs in Malaga can be found just off the main drag so don’t be afraid to wander down the narrow side streets where you will find tapas and drinks are usually a little cheaper. Look out for the more boutique style shops selling fantastic individual items off the beaten track too.

Tip: If you see something you like buy it! You might not find your way back through the maze of streets of you decide to go back later for it.

Seeing as we arrived early for the lights, we headed to an old favourite restaurant of ours, La Plaza in the recently revamped Plaza de la Merced. We shared some excellent tapas and a festive glass of wine before heading back out into the busy rain soaked streets and down towards Plaza Constitutión for the big switch on.

It seemed thousands of others had the same idea as the square was packed with people; we didn’t have to wait long as at 19.30 prompt, suddenly the huge Christmas tree was gleaming with beautiful gold lights. To our left into Calle Larios and as far as the eye could see, was the most stunning display of Gothic Cathedral style arches made up of thousands of the same tiny gold lights with dots of red spanning the width of this famous street.

prof lights It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

Malaga switched on for Christmas…

xmas tree malaga 3 It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

Arbol de Navidad

The whole area was illuminated beautifully, even the cold damp evening couldn’t spoil this magical display and as people people around us took out their phones or cameras to take pictures, everyone seemed to forget about the rain.

As we strolled down Calle Larios among the crowds looking up to admire the lights we noticed from every arch hung a huge ornate chandelier which seemed to be suspended in mid air. We reached the end and as I looked back I realised that this year’s display was the best I had seen in all of my 8 years of coming to see Malaga’s Christmas Lights.

malaga lights 3 It’s Christmas Time in Malaga

Facts:

  • The display running from Calle Larios down to Plaza de la Constitución is made up of 2 million tiny LED lamps.
  • The cost of this year’s Christmas Lights is 600,000 Euros.
  • The lights are switched on between 28th November and 6th January from 6.30pm until 2am.
  • On the first night many of the shops celebrated Black Friday sales offering huge discounts.

  It’s Christmas Time in MalagaAuthor Bio: Anna Collins, a British expat, is a lover of all things Spanish, she is especially passionate about her home town of Malaga and the Costa del Sol.  Anna is a writer and blogger and is the lead content writer for www.malagatravelguide.net