Spain – Costa del Sol: Malaga and a towed car adventure
I hate to tell this to my Canadian friends who are experiencing minus 20℃ temperatures right now but we just came back from spending a balmy plus 20℃ degree day on the beautiful Costa del Sol on the southern Mediterranean coast of Spain. Life sometimes is not fair:).
We are staying in Puerto Bañus, the flamboyant community on the west side of Marbella (moving to Marbella tomorrow) and travelling up and down the Costa del Sol exploring the towns and historical sites. We visited a number of the towns along the way, venturing up the mountains to visit places in higher elevation.
Malaga was on my must see list as the capital of the province of Malaga and an interesting city to visit. It was more than I expected. A lively, modern and sophisticated place with broad avenues, gorgeous sea front, large marina, large ship harbor, restaurants, and shops and interesting history. The 3000 years of history are very visible with the Moorish fortress Alcazaba looming over the city at the top of the hill and a well preserved ancient wall that used to surround the old town. Moorish influence is still visible in the architecture and reflected in local cuisine. The large and beautiful cathedral, also forming part of Malaga’s skyline, is built on the grounds of a mosque that was destroyed by the King and queen (Ferdinand and Isabel) after taking over Malaga back in the 1400’s. Religion and politics were one and the same in those days and eventually led to forming the Inquisition.
One of the most famous early residents of the city was Picasso. Picasso was born in Malaga and apparently formed a special attachment to the city, although once he left Spain in early 1900 he never again resided there. There are several Picasso “places” to see, some you can enter, some just pass by. The house where he was born is open for viewing, displaying prints of his art as well as photographs of the artist. There is a Picasso museum in Malaga with paintings donated by his family. The museum is situated right in the old town in the beautiful old Palacio de Buenavista within a short walking distance from the Moorish fortress and the Cathedral. It was created by Picasso’s own wish to have his work displayed in the city of his birth. There are more than 200 works in the collection but some were away on loan while we visited. We all know about cubism but I liked the way they described his work as “a syntheses of multiple viewpoints that are both formal and conceptual”. For some reason that resonated with me.
Another famous person from Malaga, and one that’s not as hard on the eyes as Pablo may be is Antonio Banderas. Oh yes, Zoro. I understand that he still maintains a connection to the city and has a residence nearby in Marbella.
Malaga has been a vacation destination for the rich and famous for many years and you can still see multi million dollar yachts docked at its harbour. Malaga though is much more than a playground for the rich and famous. It is a vibrant capital of a beautiful province and has all the charms you would expect of a Mediterranean coastal city. The beach promenade goes on forever but is especially fun along the marina where restaurants and shops line one side and luxury yachts line the other. We walked the promenade and had lunch at one of the restaurants. The restaurants were full of people and the food was so fresh and flavourful, probably one of the best lunches we have had on the trip (grilled halibut and grilled sea bass). The more casual restaurants along the sandy beach grill their fish on stakes as you see in this image directly below.
Malaga has some special foods to offer. Seafood of course is the most popular menu item here and you find every type of fish and shellfish served everywhere. Mixed fried fish and shellfish is one of the specialties, listed on some menus as fritura Malaguena. One of the special foods of Malaga is an almond soup called Ajo blanco, or white garlic. It is made with blanched peeled almond (a chore to peel but easier if you soak them first), garlic and olive oil and served with seedless moscatel grapes. I will make it and post a recipe soon, but not sure if I can find the muscatel grapes. Another different and local dish is a dessert called gachas Malaguenas, consisting of fried bread cubes topped with anise flavoured sweet white sauce. I may try it at home as well. I also noticed dishes called Pil Pil this or that, mostly with shellfish or fish. Pil Pil is a mixture of garlic, parsley, paprika, olive oil and chili in which you cook the shellfish or fish. Pil Pil dishes are prepared in smaller terra cotta dishes for individual serving. Migas are also on the menu in some restaurants, consisting of bread crumbs fried in olive oil with garlic, parsley, chorizo and sometimes fried eggs. Another dish my local foodie friends told me to try is berenjenas con miel, or eggplant fritters with honey. I couldn’t find the dish at any of the restaurants we tried but finally on our last night I emailed a restaurant we were to have dinner at (Villa Tiberio) and asked them to prepare the dish for me which they did. It was lovely but I need to investigate it further. In the drinks department they have of course the Malaga Sweet, a sweet moscatel wine that is a signature here and sold everywhere, even in bakeries. I have to come back here on a dedicated foodie tour. There is just so much to try and explore.
We had a bit of an adventure on one of our outings to Malaga late in the day. After walking around, visiting the sites and going through the Picasso museum we settled at a sidewalk cafe on a narrow street to enjoy a cup of tea before driving back to Marbella. It was getting dark, past 7:00 pm. The cafe was directly in front of a church and locals were arriving for mass with their families, all beautifully and elegantly dresses, kids, grandparents, teenagers, everyone. Out of respect for their privacy I didn’t take pictures but I was so tempted, they were so beautiful and elegant. We sat with our tea (I also ordered crepes with sugar and lemon) until it was dark, watching the scene unfolding in front of us. We heard the church bell ring for mass and at the end the people were coming out, congregating in front of the cafe, visiting with each other, kids running around, grandkids kiss grandparents goodbye and soon they were all gone. It was dark by then and we started walking back to the car. We got to the where we parked and, you guessed it, no car. When we parked there earlier the driver of the car next to us assured us that “it is fine to park here because of the way the sign is located”. Having already been fined €200 for parking in a no parking zone once before we should have known better (I did) but you know how it is, resistance was low and we parked there anyway.
So, no car. Was it stolen? was it towed? There was no clear sign prohibiting parking and indicating the car could be towed away. It was dark, there was no one there, we had no idea where the car was. We thought we’d get a taxi and perhaps the driver would have an idea if the car could have been towed and where it would have been taken to. No taxis in sight. I also had no cash left other than a few coins. Things were really going well:) but we were pretty calm considering the frustration. I thought that if we could not solve this tonight we could check into a hotel for the night and figure things out in the morning.
We started walking down the promenade back towards civilization and I noticed that the university of Malaga had a building right behind us and it was open. I was sure someone at the university would speak English so I headed there and went inside. A receptionist was sitting behind the desk and I approached her (she did not speak English) explaining in my limited (but expanding) Spanish that Tengo un problema y necesito ayuda. She was so lovely and wanted to help and paid full attention. Between a few hand gestures, a few words in Spanish and a few in English I managed to explain that we had parked our car down the street and it is not there now. She indicated that it is a no parking zone (only for motorcycles) and the car was probably towed. She told us that if they tow cars away they leave a sticker on the ground where the car was parked. She suggested we walk back to see if there was a sticker on the ground and to bring it back to her so she could help us figure it out. We were so grateful. We walked back to where we left the car and sure enough, there were several triangular orange stickers on the road where several cars were parked before, hopefully one for the car of the guy who told us to park there as well (not really, just kidding). We were not quite sure which sticker was for our car as this was a rental (license plate numbers were hand written on each sticker and they were placed everywhere) so we took pictures of them so we have the license plate number of hopefully the right car.
We went back to the gal at the university. She tried to call the impound but no one answered. She tried to get us a taxi but the taxis were on strike for the day. She pulled up a map and luckily there was a bus line that stopped right in front of the university that could take us to within a walking distance of the impound lot. We rushed to the bus station and got on the bus, scraping for the last few coins we had. We had just enough for the bus fare. From there things went pretty smooth. We got off at the right station, walked a few blocks to the impound lot asking for directions a couple times (pitch dark there), found our car, paid some €80 to get it released and collected the additional parking ticket of €200 for the illegal parking. We were in the car and on our way back to Marbella within an hour. Not bad.
By the way, if you get a parking ticket and pay it right away they cut the amount in half, but it’s another ordeal trying to pay it. So, we will never forget Malaga.