Monday, June 8, 2009
London and Málaga: getting started
Another trip over; another handful of blog entries unwritten. When I'm away I often put off writing, claiming I'll catch up when I get back. It's true I have a habit of taking "vacations" that don't quite earn the name: they're go go go all the time, which is fun and exhilarating but leaves little time for reflection and blogging along the way. I then find myself back home and dealing with work and all the real life things I'd put on hold. Writing about two weeks' worth of Spain and Portugal and trying to do justice to the experience at the same time is a tall order, but I have to give it a go.
I have a standing list of places I want to visit, but what to do when that list is miles long? Those familiar with my blog know I'm a sucker for combining travel and live music. I love both, but more than that, the chance to see my favorite bands can serve as the extra push that actually gets me to book a flight to a place I've always wanted to see but hadn't yet carved out the time. Which is how I came to see more of Spain and Portugal than I would have thought possible (or, perhaps, advisable) in just under 14 days.
As the true logistical implications became apparent in the later stages, I had misgivings. While planning with Paul, I attempted to put my foot down more than once. "No Granada! The routing makes no sense!" "Maybe I'll just stay in Lisbon for an extra day and bypass that three-hour rental car drive each way." "We're not going to have any time to see Santiago de Compostela!" But somehow, I could never quite resist the allure of the complete run, in all its crazed glory. "Well ... in Granada there's apparently this amazing parador in the Alhambra." "It would be a shame to skip Braga." "Maybe if we flew instead of taking a bus we'd have more time in Santiago to see the cathedral." In the end, I couldn't pass up any new place, even for a limited visit. (Except for Tenerife. I did hold firm on Tenerife - the Canaries were not in the cards for me this time around.)
And so, here's where I went during my two weeks off: London, Málaga, Madrid, Granada, Sevilla, Lisbon, Braga, Santiago de Compostela, San Sebastián, and Barcelona. Hot. Damn. London was a layover with just enough time to take a train into the city. I had a layover in Amsterdam on the way home, but there was no time to leave the airport. I had to settle for a complimentary stroopwafel on the KLM flight and a resolution to check the Netherlands off my list at a future time.
Now I've mentioned all the places I went, but have I told you about them? No. Therein lies the challenge of the recap post - which is why this is going to be Part 1. One of my chief frustrations is trying to characterize the general feeling of a city. They are all different, but there's no easy adjective to encapsulate each. So here's a mini report on my experiences, accompanied by a photo or two. Not real summaries, but impressions and random memories that may do a better job in a format short of 500,000 words.
Like I could really say anything about London based on a 2-hour jaunt from Gatwick to Victoria and back on the train. I saw Buckingham Palace, and a guard, and the Victoria Memorial. I bought a British sausage thing for breakfast. The trains left from platforms and a snack trolley came through and I kept thinking of Harry Potter. There were hot guys dressed in hula outfits waiting to board a train when I got back to Gatwick - I'm guessing it was some sort of dare and not a British quirk, but I'm in support regardless.
It's funny how impressions of a place can be shaped by exactly where you go. (Or, perfectly sensible.) I was alone for my first few hours in Málaga, going on way too many hours without sleep. I didn't have a city map, just a memory of the general layout from looking up directions to the hotel. I set out in the late afternoon for one of the main city thoroughfares. Unfortunately it was Sunday, so almost everything was closed. The river, which had been a landmark on maps and printed directions, surprised me by being completely dry. People walked around and playing games of volleyball where there should have been water.
Contrast this with my experience later when Paul and I ventured out. We got a map and recommendations from the front desk of the hotel and surprise number one was that the heart of the city - at least the old town - wasn't where I'd gone at all. Cross the river(bed), walk down some steps, around a corner or two, and presto: small winding streets and alleys, tiendas, tapas bars, churches, plazas, and plenty of people. It was a different world. I'd read that Málaga has historically been overlooked as a destination in itself, instead treated as a gateway to the various beaches and smaller towns on the Costa del Sol. It's recently been enjoying a renaissance in some older areas, and that seemed very evident to me. Things were charming and pristine; the streets laid with shiny stone that actually squeaked under my sandals. I liked Málaga, but as I remarked to Paul (especially as we walked back late each night), the old town almost felt like some bizarre sanitized theme park version of Spain.
That's not completely fair, of course. In our day and a half in Málaga, we ate tapas and paella, ducked into random shops, saw a political rally/concert at a major square, and explored La Manquita - Málaga's cathedral that took so long to build that it's a mishmash of different architectural styles. We were thwarted in our attempt to see the Alcazaba (damned Mondays) and the Picasso Museum was out for the same reason. But we saw the excavation of a Roman amphitheater, and nobody stopped us from climbing up the big hill to the remains of the Castillo de Gibralfaro. (Chalk that up as a place where you don't expect to run into anyone wearing a Brewers hat, but it just goes to show you never can tell.) The views from the walk up, and the fortress itself, were probably my favorite parts of Málaga. Plus, of course, there was a concert Monday night. Concert #1.
Next up, Madrid.