Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Every sentence written about Spain should end in an exclamation point (and begin with an upside-down one, if you know your Spanish)! There are few better ways to describe the intensity, beauty, and spice of the country, regardless of how laid back a small Spanish town might appear to the casual observer!

We chose Spain for our Christmas/New Year/Birthday holiday trip, and were rewarded with a very memorable journey! While many Dutch and other Europeans head for warmer winter

 climates, we chose the moderate temps of Espana’s Costa del Sol and were not disappointed! With the sun on our face for all but 1 or 2 days of the trip, we enjoyed a

 leisurely break from Amsterdam life with a wide variety of Spanish experiences!

Malaga was our destination airport, and our home base was the resort town of Fuengirola, a 20 or 30-minute drive from the airport! We wisely chose to rent an apartment unit, which offered us the ability to cook food and use this location as our jumping off point for numerous day trips! Here are the highlights of those trips!


If you’ve seen the Prudential Insurance logo (Get a Piece of the Rock), you’ve seen an outline of the Rock of Gibraltar! An English territory, Gibraltar isn’t big but is quite impressive, both geologically and historically! We took a van tour to the top of the rock and were treated to siege tunnels (dug by hand in the 1700s to protect the territory from the inevitable Spanish invasion), a colony of legendary Gibraltarian monkeys, and the kids first taste of British fish and chips! It was like a little slice of London, transplanted to southern 

Spain, within 12 miles of the coast of Morocco! The strategic importance of Gibraltar is made very clear as one gazes across the water and envisions 17th or 18th century clippers nicely making way at cruising speed en route to points east! One rather curious feature of Gibraltar is the airport: The isthmus is quite narrow and therefore quite restrictive to the size of aircraft that can land (737’s are the upper limit)! The runway bisects the road into Gibraltar, which must be closed when aircraft are taking off or landing! Once the plane passes and is at the gate or in the air, the barricades rise and foot and auto traffic is allowed to pass, traveling directly over the tarmac of the runway!


No, it’s not the name of a Beach Boys song! Ronda is an incredible little town nestled in the rolling countryside and deep canyons of inner Andalusia, housing Moorish architecture, a gorgeous town, and Spain’s oldest bullfighting ring! 

The kids loved the bullfighting ring, and I swear that I could feel the ghost of Hemmingway


as we sat in the sun and gazed upon the ring! Maya and Cole each had great fun playing the bull to their father’s role of the matador! The bell tolls for thee!*


Ah, Mijas! Perhaps the most lovely town of our trip, this small village sits in the hills above Fuengirola and overlooks the Mediterranean and the coast! With winding, steep

 streets, it’s easy—and a whole lot of fun—to get lost amidst the whitewashed buildings and storefronts! Donkeys, colorfully decorated, pull touristas in small carts about the town, but we opted to travel by foot in our explorations! Cole particu

larly enjoyed the delicious candied almonds sold by street vendors! Daddy enjoyed his 40th birthday lunch in a nice cafĂ© overlooking the sea, drenched in sunshine, as well as a wine tasting (mmm, Rioja! Grenache! Tempranillo!) in a small, backstreet wine shop! And we all had fun with other families at a kids’ playground perched on one of the town’s highest streets! Mijas!! The town deserves a double dose of exclamations!!

Benalmadena Costa

The best way to see a long, long way on the Costa del Sol is to take a gondola ride from this little village that sits between Fuengirola and Malaga! Up we went in our little cable car, high above the sea and town! At the apex of the ride, we got out and hiked even higher (w

hich didn’t seem possible) and enjoyed another brilliantly sunshiny day! Before heading back down, we were treated to a show from a well-trained Andalusian horse and handler!


Well, this town was a bit of a bust for us, the most disappointing of the trip! We had intended to visit the legendary Alhambra, an ancient Moorish fortress, but tickets must be purchased long in advance and when we arrived on 31 December, we were S.O.L. (aka, “outta luck”)! The next day was a holiday, so same story! So, we explored the streets a bit and grabbed dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a heckuva way to celebrate New Year’s Eve! Spaniards have a rather unique New Year’s custom, which involves ingesting one grape on EACH stroke of the clock at midnight! So, BONG!, one grape in the mouth! A second later, BONG!, in goes the second grape, etc. onward to the 12th stroke of the clock! Happy New Year!, you now have a mouthful of 12 freakin’ grapes to contend with! Hopefully (unlike me) you chose to purchase pit-free or pre-pitted grapes so you’re not crunching grape nuts along with your fruit! The fireworks continued for hours, but we hit the sack out of exhaustion!


Leaving Grenada, we drove southward to the Sierra Nevada mountains to see the scenery! And oh, were the vistas incredible! The Alpujarra is a series of small towns & villages that dot this incredible landscape, each nestled in a canyon or perched upon a rock outcropping! After buying a bag of deliciously sweet oranges from an old man alongside the winding road (!), we drove up, up, up to the tiny village of Canar, not far from the town of Orgiva! As the kids played at a park, we looked out over the beautiful landscape, listening to the drums of hikers/trekkers from across the nearest valley, and gazed contently at the sheepherder who tended flock just below the village! I wonder if the job of sheepherding comes with health insurance, or if it’s just built into the job description!


As our host town, we had ample time to enjoy the seaside boardwalk and restaurants! We dined at Italian, Indian, Dutch, and Spanish tapas res

taurants! We shopped in the amazing Spanish supermarket Eroski! And the kids loved playing and exploring the castle that was just ¼ mile from our hotel, with it’s incredible views of the sea, beautiful architecture, and vibrant history! Maya and Cole really enjoyed the steep steps to the castle’s highest parapets (something that would NEVER be allowed in the litigious US society!) and pretending that they were tour guides!

Alas, all vacations must come to an end! A day or two of clouds weren’t enough

 to dampen our spirits or enthusiasm for the people of Spain and their wonderful hospitality and friendliness! Did I mention the paella?!?!!

Click HERE to see ALL of the photos from the trip.

*“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” –John Donne, 1623


Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

Wow Greg, What an amazing trip and full of many celebrations!


Trace said...

Happy 40th, Greg!!!

olga said...

The exclamation points to this extent made me laugh, but the experiences of the trip sound like a great treat to all!