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Three Travellers in the Costa del Sol and Barcelona - October, 2011

Doug Phillips

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By Doug Phillips from Canada, October 2011

Trip Description

Three of us, (husband, wife, adult daughter) enjoyed eight days in the Costa del Sol and four days in Barcelona in October 2011. We had a great time.

Page 1: Introduction & Planning

Well, Spain was never on my travel horizon when we began to consider our European sojourn for 2011. However, one of our four children has a major birthday in 2011. While Meredith has spent several months in India on one occasion, and Australia and New Zealand on another, she has never been to Europe. None of her friends was available for a trip to Europe this year, so she approached us. She wanted to go to Spain. Our plans were in a state of flux for a long time. Eventually, we decided on the tourist magnet of the Costa del Sol, based in the town of Nerja, and the Catalan city of Barcelona.

So, when do you stop living your life around your children?

I’ll let you know when it happens.

We booked flights from Montreal to Malaga Spain on October 9, Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, on Air Transat. After eight days in the Costa del Sol we flew from Malaga to Barcelona via Vueling Airlines for four days, followed by a week in Paris, arriving back in Montreal on October 29, just in time for Halloween. All our flights went smoothly.

For this Trip Report I will provide a description of where we stayed, what we did, how we got around and highlights of our time in each of the Costa del Sol and Barcelona - but I will forgo a day-by-day account.

Before we left I read H.V. Morton's A Stranger in Spain

We traveled with:
  • Lonely Planet Andalucia
  • Spiral Guide Barcelona
Our daughter also brought along The Rough Guide to Andalucia.

Here’s what happened ...

Page 2: Costa del Sol - Arrival

We spent eight days, from Monday October 10 to Tuesday October 18, 2011, in the Costa del Sol, based in the seaside community of Nerja. We arrived in Malaga late Monday morning and picked up a rental car. Friends who have been to Nerja indicated that having a rental car in the Costa del Sol was not necessary. Everything in Nerja is within easy walking distance and the bus service was fine for getting around the coastal area, even to and from the Malaga Airport. They only made a car rental for a couple of longer day trips away from the coast. However, we opted for the convenience of a rental vehicle, through AutoEurope, for the whole of our time in the area. our time. We ended up with and Altea XL – a Spanish brand, but basically an Audi.

It's about a 45-minute drive from the Malaga airport to Nerja. We rented an apartment in Casa Charlotte on Calle San Pedro in the old section of Nerja. We were met by the owners, Frans and Nuttee, who were very friendly and helpful. Frans went over a map of a Nerja, making several recommendations for shopping, eating, and activities in the area. By recommending a few restaurants, he was eliminating hundreds of others, most of which cater to the tourist trade in the vicinity of the Balcon de Europa, the focal point of the town. The balcon is a promontory with excellent views out over the Mediterranean and some nearby mountains. It is always busy with people walking about. We wandered down a couple of evenings for an ice cream treat after dinner, but the area didn’t hold much additional appeal.

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Frans indicated the quickest way of getting to Burriana beach, the best of several beaches in the area. We visited Burriana several times during our stay, often mid-to-late afternoon after returning from a day trip – excellent beach.

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Frans' restaurant and tapas bar suggestions all turned out fine. These included La Puntilla restaurant at the end of our street, Bar Dolores about 10 seconds from our front door, Ayo's on Burriana beach for very good and inexpensive paella and La Taberna del Pescadores a couple of blocks away. Our favourite was La Mariposa tapas bar on calle Cristo.

Page 3: Costa del Sol – Day Trips

On our first full day we drove a few kms inland to the picturesque community of Frigiliana, our first experience with one of the “pueblos blancos” in the area. At other times we were slightly more adventurous.

One day we drove along a long and winding road into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the region known as Las Alpujarras and visited the three best-known villages, Capileira, Bubion and Pampaneira.

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Frans, our landlord, suggested the excursion and recommended that we start at the top with Capileira, then work our way down to the other two. Great suggestion on all counts! Lots of artisan workshops – with leather in Capileira and weaving in Pampaneira being the highlights. We spent most of our time in Capileira. Bought some stuff, enjoyed a very good lunch and got some great pictures.

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A couple of days later we took a day trip over to Gibraltar. It was a quintessential British experience – cloudy weather, mediocre food and expensive prices. We spent most of our time on the Upper Rock, the lower town not holding much appeal. We took the cable car to the top (€31, one way for the three of us), having spurned the entreaties of several mini-van tours near the lower level entrance to the cable cars. I think it was a good move, because the best part of our day in Gibraltar was the few hours walking along the roads and walkways of the Upper Rock, enjoying the views and commenting on the challenges of earlier inhabitants of the area.

A less enjoyable part of our time was spent at the several attractions on the rock, which were invariably congested with small tour buses. We didn’t pay to visit any of them – £10 per person seemed to be the standard charge – way over-priced in our opinion.

As we walked along, we were mystified about the purpose of the many heavy iron rings driven into the rock face along beside all the roadways as we walked along. We had no idea, until near the end of our time on the Upper Rock, we saw a plaque explaining their purpose. Until the 20th century companies of strong-armed gunners hauled heavy guns up the rock using ropes passed through the rings. Oh.

One day we ventured over to Malaga. We had an enjoyable time in the old part of the city. Our main purpose was a visit to the Picasso Museum, but we also toured the Alcazaba and had a very good lunch at La Teteria on the street outside the museum.

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The next day we drove the long/wrong way into the Sierra de las Nieves mountains to spend a day in Ronda, the best-known of the pueblos blancos. This spectacular and historic town is less than an hour from Marbella on the A-397, our intended route. However, on a whim we followed a sign for Ronda around Malaga and had a two-hour winding trek along the A-357. Ah well, a unique experience. Ronda was worth the trip – spectacular setting, impressive bull-ring, lots of literary and historical connections. We followed a walking tour of the old part of the city in one of our guide books and sought out a tapas bar (La Taberna de Antonio) recommended by another. We drove back along the recommended route.


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We had intended to visit the Alhambra in Granada, but left the arrangements too late. Tickets to the Alhambra are on timed-entry basis, which we knew by looking at the website early in our planning, before we left Canada. However, we weren’t certain when we wanted to go, so decided to leave the booking until later. Big mistake. By the time we had made up our minds, there were no tickets available during the time we were in the area.

Page 4: Barcelona - Arrival

The next stage of our "fall tour" consisted of four days, from Tuesday October 18 to Friday October 21, in the Catalan city of Barcelona. Four days in Barcelona? I know, I know, it’s not nearly long enough, and it is a city to which we hope to return.

We arrived from Malaga mid-morning on a Vueling flight, phoned the owner of the apartment we had booked, and took a taxi to the location on the miniscule Carrer del Pom d’Or, just behind the main post office in the Barii Gotic area. We were met by a Scotsman (!), who showed us the accommodations, took our money and gave us a few recommendations (some helpful, some not) about the area. The building entry was not encouraging, but the apartment was fine, with three small balconies, and the location is excellent.

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We were on the Plaça del Traginers, next to the Roman wall, within a couple of minutes walk to a supermarket and several restaurants, and less than a 10-minute walk along the Passeig de Colom to the Ramblas - five minutes when we discovered the most direct route through the narrow streets of the area.

Page 5: Barcelona - Activities

What did we do in Barcelona? Well, mostly we walked. On our first day, following one of our guidebooks, we did a walking tour of the Barri Gotic area, starting at Plaça Nova in front of the cathedral and ending about three hours later at Plaça Angel. The walking tour took us very close to our apartment at the opposite end of the Barri Gotic.

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Early the next morning we walked over to the Ramblas. The most interesting part of this well-known area is La Boqueria market, a large covered market adjacent to, and about mid-way along, the Ramblas. I was also drawn to the popular flower stalls along the pedestrian area of the street and there are some attractive squares off the Ramblas, but as for the rest of the Ramblas, once is enough.

Our longest walk was mainly an architectural tour through L’Eixample and Gracia. Personal highlights were a variety of early Gaudi buildings and the unusual Parc Guell. I suppose everybody wants to see La Sagrada Familia, but it doesn’t rank very high with me.

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Early one evening we walked over to and through the most attractive Parc de la Ciutadella. We spent some time at the nearby Port Vell and I had a very enjoyable morning on my own in Barceloneta, while my companions went shopping.

During our short time in Barcelona we had limited time to sample the restaurants of the city. We had intended to go to a different restaurant each evening but dined at L'Antic Bocoi del Gotic three times by mutual agreement. Everything about the restaurant is exceptional - the setting (inside the ruins of the Roman wall), the staff and especially the wonderful Catalan food - a unique experience for us. Also, the prices are very reasonable. If you plan to be in Barcelona, I would urge you to go to this restaurant. It is perhaps not the easiest restaurant to find - on the street leading up the hill off Plaça del Traginers, just behind the main post office, but well worth the effort.

We were also very pleased with our decision to try the very casual Bo de B. We had noticed lineups at the take-away window previously and decided to drop in to see what the fuss was all about. Well, it's great! Liz and Meredith had a fully stuffed vegetarian baguette each, I had the smoked salmon salad plate. The total was €13. Considering the amount of smoked salmon on my plate, I couldn't have made this salad at home in Canada for the €7 price. Service is friendly and efficient, but they are very busy. Immediately to the left of the main post office in Barcelona. Go there if you're in the city.

Our Barri Gotic location was excellent for most of our excursions and our experiences with the Barcelona Metro were uniformly positive.

Page 6: Barcelona vs Viktoria Plzen

Undoubtedly our most interesting adventure in Barcelona was going to a football (soccer in North American terms) game one evening, at the suggestion of our daughter, Meredith. A football game in Europe? Is it safe? Aren’t there a lot of English hooligans creating havoc? Well, maybe in the past, but the game we attended was very sedate. We bought our tickets on the Ramblas, and later saw them for sale at an FC Barcelona store in the Port Vell area for €12 less, each (ouch!). We had to show our passports when we bought the tickets and our particulars were entered into the computer. The stadium, called Camp Nou, can accommodate 122,000 spectators. The nearest Metro stop is about a 10-minute walk to the stadium.

My initial concern about attending the game were allayed when I noticed the crowd walking toward the stadium – a friendly, casual throng with lots of family groups and nary a skinhead in sight. The match was between Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen from the Czech Republic. The match featured a total of three shots on goal, all by Barcelona. The final score was 2-0. Most of the game was played in the vicinity of the Czech goal and featured lots of impressive passing by the Barcelona squad. It was a fast game – not so much on the field, as on the clock. Two 45-minute halves, a 15-minute intermission, and a few minutes of extra time each half – less than two-hours in total. The fans were really into the action on the field, much more so than any sporting event we’ve attended in North America.

We also noticed very strict security at the game. There was a long line of police vans outside the stadium and inside there was a ring of security people every twenty feet or so whose job it was to look for any disturbances in the stands. The security people never cast a glance over their shoulder to the action on the field the whole game. And, by the way, there was no alcohol for sale anywhere inside the stadium. Try to imagine attending a professional sporting event in North America if beer wasn’t available.

The match also included several comedy skits in the form of pseudo-injuries by both teams. A player would fling himself into the air, fall to the ground writhing and clutching part of his anatomy. The referee would stop play. Attendants would rush out onto the field and after a few minutes of their ministrations, the player would hobble to the sidelines, at which time play would resume. However, since there are apparently no injury substitutions in football, the player would take a sip of water and rejoin the play, none the worse for wear. The crowd was in on it, too. If it was a Barcelona player on the field, there would be an uproar, but if it was a Czech player there was a chorus of disapproving whistles. The whole theatrical display reminded me a bit of a British “panto.” I suppose tolerance for such fakery is not dissimilar to fighting in hockey – accepted as part of the game by enthusiasts, incomprehensible to outsiders - but at least few people apparently get hurt in football.

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Page 7: Observations & Resources

The best aspect of our trip this year was an opportunity to spend time with one of our children. Back in 2007 we enjoyed our time in Rome and Paris with Steve and Brad, our two sons. In 2010 we spent a week in Texas with our oldest child, Kelly, and her son, Liam. We hope we can continue to travel with our children.

The Costa del Sol exceeded my expectations. Nerja was an excellent choice for a base, Casa Charlotte was very good rental apartment and Frans, our host, provided some excellent suggestions.

But, both Liz and I are pretty sure we will plan a return visit to Barcelona in the next few years. We were very impressed with the city and our time was way too short. We will plan a longer stay and include day trips to some of the recommended sites in the region.
 

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