Sunday, June 19, 2011

Malaga Spain Recommendations

Just returned from a trip to Spain. We spent two days in Granada and two in Malaga. We used the free ticket I won from Swiss International Airlines for my "Flowers in Your Horns" music video about going to San Francisco (I won one of the runner-up prizes). I wrote last week about Granada.

Malaga Sightseeing

We arrived from Granada in the mid-afternoon to a sunny and hot Malaga. We walked from the bus station to our hotel at the edge of the historic center of town. That was probably a mistake given the heat and because the area around the bus station is a huge construction site for the city's new metro system. But we made it and the Hotel Posada del Patio was really great. Especially cool is that they incorporated the old Roman walls, found when excavating for the cellar, into the project: there are glass floors where you can look down at the old Roman construction and they hold events down there - we took a short tour.

Malaga Tapeo de Cervantes May 2011- - 7
They, at least try, to speak your language!

Malaga was supposed to be the low key part of our four day vacation to Spain so we did not plan any big sightseeing. After a siesta we walked around the historic center looking for a nice place to eat. We stopped at the Bodegas El Pimpi - which is recommended in many guidebooks - and it was fine. We sat at the bar, checked out the decor - alone worth the trip - and enjoyed beer, tomatoes and cheese, and olives. We were not so hungry so decided to go on walking around before dinner.

Malaga's historic center is full of narrow streets almost all of which have been turned into pedestrian zones. They were full of people walking around, shopping, eating and drinking ... really nice urban feeling. Most of the streets are paved with smooth stone, often in patterns, and they are clean. It's a nice feeling underfoot.

Malaga Tapeo de Cervantes May 2011- - 1
Tapas at El Tapeo de Cervantes
Eventually we found our way to Plaza Cervantes and found the El Tapeo de Cervantes, a recommended tapas bar. We found a place in the small bar and were greeted by a waiter who spoke probably five languages (see photo of sign). The atmosphere was fun and low key. We ordered five tapas to start and then a couple more as the night went on along with several glasses of the excellent local red wine. Since I love tapas this restaurant was a highlight of my visit.

After dinner we walked back through the city. Of course the streets were full including a peaceful protest calling for political reform in the main square (there were similar protests going on all over Spain, including one in Granada) reminding me of the teach-ins of my youth. The restaurants and bars were overflowing into the pedestrian streets and it was a wonderful feeling. Since the city invented the Malaga flavour of ice cream we had some at Casa Mira, which according to my guidebook, is the oldest ice cream parlour in Malaga. It was quite good but the raisins were completely different tasting from typical raisins.

Malaga Atarazanas Market May 2011- - 1
Atarazanas Market in Malaga

On Saturday morning we walked to the Atarazanas Market (Mercado Central de Atarazanas) and bought fresh papaya, salted almonds, bread, tomatoes, peaches and tasted lots of other things including Malaga raisins ... then I realized why the raisins in the ice cream tasted the way they did! The Malaga raisins are completely different from the small rubbery pencil eraser raisins we used to eat in our grade school lunches. They are large, soft and juicy, yum!

Malaga Casa Aranda May 2011- - 1
Coffee at Casa Aranda in Malaga

We stopped for breakfast at Cafe Aranda which specializes in Churros and coffee. The cafe's outdoor tables spread from Calle Alhondiga around the corner and along Calle Herreria del Rey for a whole block. The cafe also had several separate inside rooms along the streets. We didn't sample the Churros but the person next to us asked if he could try one and they brought him a single Churros (usually they come in sets of 5!), plus I don't think that they charged him (he did leave a nice tip). Service was extremely friendly and the coffee was fine.

Malaga Beach May 2011- - 3
Malaga beach

On Saturday afternoon we walked to the beach. It took about a half hour with about 10-minutes being on the beach itself (we went to the far end). We had lunch of grilled fish in a nice restaurant on the beach. The waiter helped us pick-out a fish to share then they took it over to the open fire (built in a rowboat filled with sand) where it was grilled on a spit. We also had an order of grilled sardines as we sipped our beer waiting for the larger fish. It was an excellent meal and again the service was very friendly. Christa went swimming and said the water was nice (the receptionist at the hotel told us it might be too cold to swim).

Malaga Fish on Beach May 2011- - 1
Fish being grilled in Malaga

After another siesta we went walking through the historic city looking for dinner again. I fought my desire to return to El Tapeo del Cervantes and decided to be adventurous. We started with a beer on a very nice square on Carreteria street. Since the Champions League Final was on television no one was eating so we went to a couple bars before setting in one that seemed to have the most fans and watched the second half of the game. It was lots of fun because, of course, FC Barcelona won and the bar was full of fans singing and dancing.

Malaga La Queseria May 2011- - 5
Fried cheese at La Queseria in Malaga

To celebrate FC Barcelona's win we went to the tapas bar (?) called La Queseria (which means cheese market). Their specialty, naturally, is cheese, but they have other tapas too. We focused on the cheese ordering a mixed cheese plate for two and the fried cheese (I had to try that!). The mixed cheese was great and the fried cheese was fine, but it's not really my taste. Instead of being deep fried (which I hate) it was sauteed and then served with a small amount of honey(?)-based jam. The meal went great with a couple glasses of the same local red wine we drank the night before.

After walking around a little more we decided to stop in to a very nice looking tapas place near the hotel to enjoy the warm evening and busy streets. I had a glass of the sherry wine that we learned about having dinner with Francisco in Granada. We both agreed to come back again soon.

Malaga Suburban Train May 2011- - 1
The commuter rail train to Malaga Airport,
what post would be complete without a train photo?

The next morning we took the suburban train to the airport. The station was about a 10-minute walk from our hotel and the trip was fast and convenient.

Here's a link to my photos of Malaga on flickr.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Granada Spain Recommendations

Granada Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla 2011- - 5
Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla, Granada Spain
Just returned from a trip to Spain. We spent two days in Granada and two in Malaga. We used the free ticket I won from Swiss International Airlines for my "Flowers in Your Horns" music video about going to San Francisco (I won one of the runner-up prizes).

Granada Sights

In Granada we just relaxed. We tried to go to the Alhambra, but you need to reserve tickets in advance (they sell a limited number of same-day tickets, but we were not successful at getting them). They have a good website so you can order in advance.

We didn't have breakfast in the hotel, opting for local cafes instead. On the first day we went to the Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla, a historic cafe on Plaza Bibrambla, and sat outdoors. I had Churros with chocolate and they were excellent (unfortunately my photos of the cooking process did not turn out, but you can go into the cafe and watch). I am not sure I would want to eat them every morning, but these were really good. The next day we stood at the counter inside (watching the cooking process) and had coffee con leche with chocolate croissants. The cafe also has ice cream which looks delicious.

Granada La Oliva May 2011- - 19
Francisco at La Oliva

We had dinner in a wonderful place called La Oliva. It's actually a food shop whose owner, Francisco, will cook dinner if you call and arrange in advance. We enjoyed an 11-course (probably, we lost count) dinner with wine that he prepared using ingredients from the shop and a simple one burner camp stove. He only has two tables and dinner is really an experience accompanied with Francisco teaching you about traditional food and wine from the region.

We spent a lot of time walking around the area of Albaicin, which is a neighborhood located on the north side of the Alhambra. It's a neighborhood built on the side of a hill with narrow winding streets. Lots of scenic vistas towards the Alhambra, historic churches and buildings, and some shops. We walked down to the Plaza de los Tristes, a square filled with restaurants along the Rio Darro. Then up a street called Calle del Rey Chico up to the Alhambra visitor center. Since we could not get tickets we spent some time in the excellent bookstore so we know what to look for on our next visit.

Granada Albaicin Neighborhood May 2011- - 20
The Alhambra from the Albaicin neighborhood.

Walking down from the Alhambra to the Plaza Nueva, we had some superb Gazpacho soup served in a glass (to go!). We went back to ask how they made it and after trying to speak English a little, the proprietor asked if we spoke German, which he spoke fluently. We got the recipe quickly: one (only!) clove of garlic, fresh tomatoes, old bread (soaked in water), olive oil (the quality of the olive oil determines the quality of the soup), salt and pepper. We made it when we returned to Vienna and it was pretty good. I still like my version with more garlic and green peppers/cucumbers etc. but that's cooking isn't it?

Granada Bar Los Diamantes May 2011- - 3
Bar Los Diamantes, Granada Spain

One of my favorite foods is tapas. In Granada whenever you order a drink you get a free tapas. And, we are not talking about a small bowl of peanuts. Many of the free tapas we had were quite substantial. You could easily make a meal of free tapas going from one bar to another. We did this with the friends we were visiting and it was lots of fun, not necessarily a balanced meal, but order a couple small plates to go with the free ones and you will do fine. We visited the Bar Los Diamantes (which is in lots of the books) and it was great: busy, fast, casual. We ordered two beers and were immediately confronted with a rather large plate of deep-fried calamari. True, it made us want to order another beer, but then we received a plate of zucchini (also fried). The beer was an excellent local beer called Alhambra.

We really loved Granada and hope to visit again soon.

All my Granada photos on flickr.

Practical Information

We took a local express bus (2 Euros) from the airport to the intercity bus terminal, then took the intercity bus to Granada (10.01 Euros, the 1-Euro-cent is kind of odd, we did not pay it when we went to the ticket window, but I did have to pay it when I went to a ticket machine to buy a return ticket). We took a cab to our hotel (8 Euros) since the Granada bus terminal is out of the city center.

The bus schedules are not well coordinated so we waited about 30 minutes at the Malaga airport (we just missed the bus) and about 45-minutes at the bus station (buses leave for Granada about every hour on the hour). We tried to buy a ticket on-line for the return trip but the website was not accepting credit cards; we bought a ticket at a machine at the station which was fine, the line to buy a ticket in person was incredibly long.

We stayed at the Room Mate Leo hotel, which was very nice. As the on-line reviews say the staff is really great, for example, they spent lots of time trying to reserve bus tickets for us (and other guests).