Having seen the Alhambra in every possible way, it was time to move on from Granada. I took the road through the mountains to the coast. Just after leaving Granada, the road passes a spot called the Suspiro del Morro – the sigh of the Moor. It was here that the last Moorish Emir was supposed to have stopped on his journey from Granada to North Africa. Legend has it that he looked back and gave a great sigh at the sight of the palace he had been forced to surrender to the Spanish. His mother then scolded him with the brutal words – “Cry like a woman, for what you could not defend as a man”.
The road went through some pretty mountain scenery…….
…..before hitting the coast, which was blighted by mile after mile of modern tourist development. My guidebook had recommended the town of Salobrena as being relatively unspoiled, but it impressed me so little that I didn’t even bother to get out of the car to visit it. I did stop at Nerja, a town with a pretty seafront hidden behind the usual ugly modern housing, for an excellent lunch of fresh dorado. From there I headed into Malaga, drove my car through the streets of the old town to the public carpark my hotel had recommended. Parking was traumatic – the ramps leading up and down between the floors of the car park were narrow and winding. My car’s collision detectors continually screamed with alarm at my proximity to the walls. I discovered that the only safe way up was when the detectors on both sides were showing red, which meant I was exactly in the middle of the passage. The carpark was busy, so I had to negotiate several floors of ramps before I found a space, which was just as narrow as the ramps had been. The whole parking experience took twenty minutes and I emerged drenched in sweat.
My flat was right in the centre of the old town, and had a balcony overlooking a busy pedestrian street with bars and restaurants. This was both good and bad. During the day, the atmosphere was fun and stimulating, but at night the partying outside continued until the early hours of the morning – Malaga is a young people’s party town. Even the ice cream shop opposite only closed at midnight.
I headed out after check-in and had a dinner of tapas in a local bar in front of the cathedral, before strolling to the port, where even more bars and restaurants awaited me. I arrived just after sunset and scanned the darkening horizon unsuccessfully for a sighting of the coast of North Africa. I strolled back through the still busy streets of the old town and reached my flat at eleven – which by Malaga standards is a very early time to go to bed.
The next day I set off to explore the city. Despite its reputation as a party town, there is quite a lot to see and do in Malaga other than drinking. My first destination was the Alcazaba – the old Moorish fort located on a hill behind the old city. I clambered up and enjoyed some old Moorish architecture, pretty gardens, the views of Malaga, and – yes, finally- Africa in the far distance. It was nice but suffered terribly by comparison with the Alhambra which I had visited only two days earlier.
It was now lunch time, and I headed to the market to buy lunch and something to cook for dinner. I was tempted by a very busy restaurant selling seafood, spread out over the pavement outside. It was a fun atmosphere – a constant stream of customers, animated conversations in many different languages, and the waiters dodging between the tables with plates of tempting seafood. Our waiter recommended “carabineros” which he explained were large red prawns, so I ordered three, with some octopus and langoustines. The carabineros arrived and were huge and delicious – with the texture of lobster but a much stronger taste. They were much larger than I had expected and I was glad the langoustines had somehow been forgotten by my waiter.
I asked for my bill, and got a shock – each prawn was priced at 19€. I checked the restaurant’s menu and saw that that the indeed they were expensive, but should have been 14.50€ each, so I complained. The waiter tried to explain that these prawns were sold by weight, but I insisted and ended up talking with the head waiter and then the owner, who adjusted my bill. Even the adjusted bill was still over 60€, way more than I had expected to pay for lunch. I was annoyed with myself – travelling teddy bears are often targets for tourist scams, since we are obviously foreign. I had forgotten two basic rules – never order what the waiter recommends and always check the price before ordering. I headed into the market, annoyed with myself, and bought oxtail (a local specialty) for dinner. I saw a few stands selling the “carabineros”…….. for 85€ per kilo! The restaurant hadn’t ripped me off after all – I had ordered some of the most expensive seafood on the planet. Checking the internet, these prawns are known as Cardinal Prawns or Scarlet Shrimps in English and indeed are considered a rare delicacy. I think they should be called “Golden Prawns”.
Walking back to my flat to drop off the meat I had bought, I reflected upon my lunchtime experience. The shock of the bill that had upset me, after so many Spanish meals where I had paid much less than I expected. If I had set out intent on trying an exotic delicacy, I would have been very happy with lunch, and would have told myself that such a meal would cost at least double back home. This thought comforted me and gave me the energy to continue my exploration of Malaga in the afternoon after a short siesta.
First stop was the cathedral, which was even bigger than the one in Granada. Each Andalusian city seemed to compete for the title of most extravagant cathedral and Malaga’s effort took a hundred years to build. The result, although scaled down from the original ambitions, was truly impressive.
My visit included a tour of the roof. Aside from showing some worrying cracks in the building’s structures, the roof gave great views in all directions over Malaga.
Next stop was something completely different – the Picasso Museum, established in the mansion where the artist was born. I have lost count of how many Picasso museums I have seen – his output was prodigious, and it seems that many of his many heirs settled their inheritance tax bills by donating enough paintings to the state to set up yet another museum. This museum probably didn’t contain the artist’s best work, but as always there were several pictures that demanded that you stand to admire them for a few minutes.
Next, I had intended to visit another art museum, the Thyssen museum, but I had run out of both time and energy. I had a drink in a nice café next to the cathedral………
……and then bought a bottle of wine to have with my oxtail for dinner, whilst the party outside on the streets continued in full swing.
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