Friday, September 30, 2011

Playa Vera Club

The next morning, after dealing with Spanish law enforcement via the Almeria City Police and three US banks the day before, we traveled east along the Costa del Sol to the Playa Vera Club - a place where the beautiful people sport the latest fashions by night and by day sport the barest of swim suits, or more often than not, nothing at all.  It was a fun 24 hours.  Thankfully, it was way too expensive for us to stay longer.  I may have lost Stanley forever had we spent another day.

Cameras were strictly prohibited, but I did manage a few shots of the lobby and the outside of the building when no one was looking.

Almost as interesting as the people were the acres and acres of shade houses we saw between Almeria and Vera.  Known as the vegetable basket of Spain, the agriculture is intense and full time under the protection of plastic houses. 

Enough vegetables are grown in this area to supply the needs of Spain as well as much of the rest of Europe.  It was an amazing sight.  Not beautiful, but amazing.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Low-down, Dirty, Nasty, Invasive Pick-Pocket!

Waiting for the bus in Malaga to Almeria, this low-down, dirty, nasty, invasive pick-pocket stuck his hand in my unzipped bag and helped himself to my wallet.  Aside from my driver's license (which I doubt very much he will be able to use as ID) my credit cards and cash card (which he wasn't smart enough to use), all he got was about 12 euros and a 100 peso bill.

Having a strange hand in your purse just inches away from your left breast  without your knowledge - much less your consent - is just a few steps away from personal assault.

Far worse than that is knowing what a victim profile I must have exhibited for him to take this action.  It makes me want to puke, hide a snake in my purse, and carry a big stick. 

We had already put our luggage on the bus so there was nothing to do but continue the trip.  Upon arriving in Almeria, we went to the police station to file a report and then spent about two hours contacting the credit card companies and the cash card bank.  For the next three days, the credit card company questioned every charge we made on Stanley's cards, but that seems to be the worst of it.

A word to all the women I love:  Handbags make great accessories, great for carrying tissues and condoms.  They are NOT for carrying money, charge cards, bank cards, or vital ID's.  Better to carry those things in your bra!

On to Marbella

The Costa del Sol is unlike anything I have seen.  Endless sunshine.  Wall to wall people.  A walk along the sea wall that stretches endlessly into the sunset.  At least three restaurants for every day of the year.  Gloriously clean sand.  Sparkling blue water.  I know it may sound like Hawaii or southern California, but it's different.  I can't describe the precise difference, but once you experience the feel of the sun on your face and the sand between your toes, you'll know the difference is there.

After a morning in Rhonda, we traveled by bus to Marbella, a community of tourists and those who serve them.  Street after street after street of condominiums run parallel to the shore.  I watched people - some bleached white from too many days in the north, some freshly burned from the day before, and most overweight by at least 10 kilos - pour out of those condos, as eager for a fresh application of their drug of choice as any addict.  In this case:  the warming rays of the Mediterranean sun! 

By contrast, those who are there to serve have the most beautiful bodies imaginable.  Blemish free, light brown skin stretched over taunt slim bodies, many with sparkling blue/green eyes.  Makes me - one of those who vacillate between bleached white and freshly burned, but always overweight - wonder if I shouldn't be doing something different.  Maybe more olive oil?????

Enough self-deprecation!  On with the show . . .

To make an escape from the taunt slim bodies, we went for a buggy ride through town.  The city itself has some interesting architecture and some lovely plantings, but the most outstanding feature of all has to be the people!
Returning to buggy-ride headquarters, our horsey said he was too tired to pose for photos.  Poor guy had pulled too many tourists for one day!

Back on the beach . . . a sand castle extraordinaire!

A fabulous sunset . . .

Taking pictures of people taking pictures . . .
And later that evening . . . fun with the camera and a delicious seafood paella. 

Day Trip from Malaga to Rhonda

We traveled from Malaga to Rhonda by bus.  Views out the window were mostly intense agriculture framed by some fairly impressive mountains sprinkled with the occasional white village. 

The small town of Rhonda is a two-trick town:  (1) its fabulous bridge and (2) its claim to being the birthplace of the modern traditions of bullfighting and its subsequent worship of the sport.  We went for the bridge.

Coming into town, visitors approach the bridge through a large park with increasingly breathtaking views across the canyon.

And then the brige itself.  Wow!  Built between1751 and 1793 the Puente Nuevo is the tallest of three bridges spanning the two canyon walls towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor. 

Birds cling to the canyon walls,

while violinists perched safely on top, play beautiful music
Tourists pose for photos on the bridge

And views from the other side are just as marvelous!

Looking down

Looking away

To town for lunch
And a Stanley smile at last.  Happiness is sharing a lunch of tapas and cold beer with a wife who has checked off one more thing on her "must see" list - The Bridge at Rhonda! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Madrid to Malaga

Flying along the track at 269 kilometers per hour doesn't make for good photo opportunities, but it was a real thrill!  We made the trip from Madrid to Malaga-about 340 miles-in less than three hours.

The trains in Spain were a pleasant surprise - on time, fast, well-connected, and covering the entire country.  Public transportation is a huge priority here.  In fact, there is a strong emphasis on all things "green."

The photos I did take all focus on intensive agriculture and the mountains that fell into my view finder as we approached the Costa del Sol. 
The town of Malaga is delightful:  interesting architecture, plazas, fountains, curious little shops, tucked away churches, and narrow little lanes - tiled for the pedestrian and blocked from any car traffic.  A walker's paradise!

A one-armed lady crowns the city.  The cathedral proudly lifts one tower to the sky.  The second was planned, but never built.  Outside, the gardens feature many artifacts from early church days.

Inside, the architectural detail is stunning.

The art is breath-taking,

 . . . and the organ and chior is amazing!

Back outside . . . 
. . . up the hill, we found the Alcazaba.  Built between 1057 and 1063, this is probably the most important military fortification remaining from the Hispanic-Arabic period.  Older than the Arabic fortress is the Roman theatre discovered in the midst of a road excavation and still under study.

Through the tunnel and on up a very steep hill, we found the Castillo de Gibralfaro.  This fortification has roots from a time long before the Romans.  The location was so perfect that each new ruling regime added to it, using it for protection against the new invaders.

Inside the interpretation center, we found this scale model of the city in by-gone days.

This collage features some views of the city today as well as two happy climbers at the top of the hill.  
And still more views!
It was quite a hike, but in the constant battle between calories and exercise, it was worth an extra glass of wine and another serving of pasta.

Bar flies!  These two ladies regaled us with tales of their lives split between Manchester, England and rural Spain.  What a delight they were!  The small pictures in the collage are a couple of dashing Spaniards I photographed in the interpretation center.  I'll bet these two gals could have given either one of them a run for their money. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

All the way to Madrid . . .

Leaving San Antonio on a Greyhound Bus seemed a fairly inauspicious way to start this journey, but it was fabulous.  A short ride to Houston, a fabulous dinner, over night at the Crowne Plaza, and we shuttled off to the Houston International Airport.  Painless?  Oh, yeah!
The next thing we knew, we had landed in Madrid, taken the bus to downtown and found ourselves at the Madrid train station investigating transportation to Malaga.

Off to our hotel ... and . . .   .    and          .   and    . even with the best of trips across the ocean, the dredded jet lag sets in.  We weren't good for much that first day except finding food. 

We were able to locate the Plaza Major, a great feeding station/watering hole/people watching venue. We stayed as long as we could keep our eyes open.

The next day we were off for an injection of culture.  The Prado.  We spent over three hours there and didn't even begin to stay long enough to appreciate all the great art.  It was fabulous!
Just outside the museum we found a great city tour bus:  I couldn't snap pictures fast enough . . .

The fountains . . .

The gates . . .

Fantastic architecture . . .

More sculpture 
 than you
can count . . .
And most wonderful of all . . . the gates to the city.

The most surprising thing about the city of Madrid were the trees.  Neither one of us was prepared for the immense green spaces of Madrid.  The city is completely immersed in the idea of living green.  Who knew?

We were exhausted when we returned to the hotel.  Just time for a good nights rest and off to Malaga.