A Travellerspoint blog

Ancient and Modern Malaga

sunny 23 °C

James first visited Malaga in 1965 as a chef aboard a cruise liner when Spain was only just beginning to develop after a lengthy civil war and many years of General Franco's isolationist rule. It was still a relatively poor country and the city he saw was down at heel. But Malaga's old city has been rejuvenated with smart highrises, seaside hotels and apartments. Superyachts lie alongside the sparkling new waterfront promenades where rusty tramp steamers once loaded the local oranges and olives...
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The countryside surrounding Malaga is still dotted with orange and olive groves, but no one picks the bitter Seville oranges that line the city's streets...
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Some things haven't changed. The heart of the city is still overlooked by a hillside fortress built by the Muslim Moors in the 10th century. This is the Alcazaba...
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While the buildings don't compare in size or grandeur to those in the Alhambra in Granada, its lofty walls and formidable fortifications would have made it impenetrable before the days of muskets and cannons...
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Like so much of southern Europe, these lands have been fought over many times in history. The Phoenicians, Greeks and Visigoths all ruled here long before the Romans conquered some 200 years BC. And then came the Muslims from Tangiers in today's Morocco. The North Africans dominated this region of Spain until the 15th century when the Catholics forced them out and turned the Alcazaba into a royal residence. However, there is little evidence of Alcazaba's regal past and the architecture remains distinctly Moorish...
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Much of the stone used to construct this fortress was taken from a 5th century Roman amphitheatre that was carved into the foot of the hill overlooking the harbour. Fortunately, many of the amphitheatre's original travertine seats survived...
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Christianity also survived the Muslim invasion and was restored with fervour when the Catholics re-took the country and instituted a brutal repression of Jews and Muslims through the infamous Spanish Inquisitions. Christianity rules today and the balconies of all the hotels and apartments along the route of next week's Santa Semana parades are being draped with red symbolizing the blood of Christ...
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Before leaving Malaga we had to try the fresh local fish, and where better than at the Japanese restaurant next to our hotel. The boatload of sushi and sashimi was delicious...
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You won't need three guesses as to where we are now when we say that, despite the fact that there are monkeys and parakeets in the trees, everyone speaks English and there is a red telephone box on every corner...
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If you need another clue - we can see Africa from our hotel balcony!
We can't wait to show you around.

Posted by Hawkson 12:29 Archived in Spain Comments (8)

Malaga Moments

sunny 23 °C

After speeding to Cornwall to visit family for the weekend, we took off from London under a grey sky to arrive in the sun-soaked Costa del Sol. The sun was still shining in Plymouth harbour on Sunday, but, despite the clear sky, it didn't seem to be working very well. In contrast, the sun in Malaga shines gloriously from dawn to dusk and we are already getting a tan. Our hotel is close to the centre of the city and our first stop was to visit the markets.
Malaga, the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, is a Meditteranean fishing port so it's not surprising that the fresh fish is abundant...
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Many stalls in the markets also have amazing displays of some of the finest and freshest fruits and vegetables.
Andalucia is the warmest part of Spain with a sub-tropical climate and its farms and greenhouses keep Europe supplied with produce throughout the winter. Apart from all the locally grown produce in the markets we were delighted to find one of our favourite tropical fruits - red dragon fruit, (known here as fruta del dragon rojo)...
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These succulent, fragrant fruits are simply heavenly in the tropics. However, we are very close to Morocco so we shouldn't be surprised to find products more common to Africa. A Saharan sandstorm blanketted this area recently and some of the the streets and plazas are still coated with red dust. Pedestrians rule in Malaga and vehicles are banished from many of the wide, tree-lined, streets where shoppers can idly dream of buying a lady's fan or a new sombrero...
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Elegant buildings line the major shopping streets...
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In the centre of the city we find one of Malaga's treasures - the Cathedral...
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The Cathedral was begun in1528 but was never truly finished because of lack of funds. The present building was completed in 1782 by placing a tax on all ships entering the harbour - especially those bringing the riches that the Conquistadors were looting from the newly colonised territories of South America. However, it still only has one tower instead of the planned two because the funds ran out. This is the stub of the unfinished south tower...
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They may get around to the second tower one day, but the Cathedral's many side chapels are especially well endowed with gold and precious objects...
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The enormity of Cathedral is breathtaking. The vaulted ceilings soar a hundred and thirty seven feet above us...
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Next time we will visit Malaga's greatest treasure - the 11th century Moorish fortress known as the Alcazaba, but today we will stroll under the palm trees in the warm afternoon air, listening to the flocks of mating parakeets and breathing the delicious scents of orange blossom and jasmine. This is heavenly...
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But back to earth where preparations are well under way for Santa Semana, (Holy week - next week), when hundreds of thousands of people will crowd into the city to watch processions of elaborately decorated religious thrones bearing effigies of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Chaos will ensue as the thrones weighing upwards of 4,000 kilogrammes are carried through the streets for 8 hours by as many as 250 barefoot, hooded, men. We will miss the weeklong events in Malaga but similar sights await us in Cadiz and Granada.

Posted by Hawkson 16:57 Archived in Spain Comments (7)

London's Highlights.

overcast 10 °C

Anyone fooled by our last blog into believing that mistletoes are some mystical toeless creatures, should really have taken a closer look at the date! No fooling today as we take another look at some of London's highlights before we fly to Malaga on Wednesday. London's most iconic building, the Elizabeth Tower housing the giant bell known as Big Ben, has been under wraps for several years while being given a make-over...
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We have photos of the tower from previous visits but it's nice to see its shiny new face...
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Despite the fact that the 13-ton bell cracked shortly after installation, Big Ben has been chiming almost continuously since the tower was completed in 1859 following a disastrous fire that destroyed the Palace of Westminster in 1834. The enormous clock, with hands more than 14 feet long, can be reached by a staircase of 334 steps, but it is not open to the public. However, not far away, there is an equally impressive tower that was also built as a result of a great fire...
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The 311 stone steps of the spiral staircase inside this monument appeared as a question in our last blog entry. The monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was erected immediately after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and stands 202 feet from the place where the fire was believed to have started in Pudding Lane...
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The 350-year-old Monument to the Great Fire of London has also been given a facelift and the top has been re-gilded...
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The cage over the viewing platform, 202 feet above the ground, is not to stop gold thieves but to prevent suicides and accidental deaths; several of which occurred shortly after its construction.
Much of the City of London was destroyed in the Great Fire but 'it's an ill wind that blows no good,' and the inferno not only swept away countless rat-infested slums, but it enabled a new modern city to be built. The fire also had the effect of ending the bubonic plague that had ravaged the city in the preceding year. St. Paul's Cathedral, also by Wren, was just one of the magnificent buildings erected following the Great Fire but, today, this building, which is almost as big as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, is dwarfed by ultra-modern glass and concrete towers with names like, 'The Gherkin' and 'The Cheese Grater' ...
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The 10016 foot high 'Shard' is another of London's soaring modern structures...
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There are magnificent views of London from the top of Wren's Monument, but it is not the only high spot on today's tour. This is London Eye...
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This giant Ferris wheel is still in its original location on the south bank of the Thames, even though it was supposed to be only a temporary construction to celebrate the Millenium 22 years ago. And this is the Emirates cableway that flies over the river at Greenwich...
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There are sweeping views of London's Docklands from the gently swaying cars...
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Now we are coming down to earth for the next couple of days in London as we prepare to take off for Spain.
Hasta luego amigos

Posted by Hawkson 15:48 Archived in England Comments (5)

Loving London

sunny 8 °C

Firstly - the answer to the question in the previous entry.
These are nests of the greater spotted mistletoes: a name derived from the
fact that the toes of these elusive nocturnal creatures are completely hidden by feathers
and were originally believed to be non-existent (thereby 'mistle toes or missing toes').
Both the greater and lesser spotted mistletoes deposit small white eggs in clusters
throughout their nests. For centuries, gullible young men have been persuaded to risk
their lives to collect egg laden branches in the belief that any young maiden will be
forced to kiss them under its spell. Some people will believe anything.

We are now loving London where there seems to be more wildlife than in the countryside...
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However, not everyone thinks of tropical parakeets as being a wild British bird, but when they
began escaping from aviaries a while ago they soon found that tourists couldn't read the multiple
park signs saying, "Don't Feed the Wildlife", and they thrived.
London's Royal Parks are splendid in the warm sunshine and the amorous waterfowl have put
on their courting coats. This is one of the many Egyptian ganders hoping to get lucky on the
Serpentine in Hyde Park...
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But there are plenty of other birds swanning about in search of a mate...
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While this beautiful heron seemed more interested in checking out his looks in the mirror...
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When it comes to preening, there is surely no creature more elegant than the cavalry horse and on two occasions this week we were lucky enough to watch a full performance of the Household Cavalry in full regalia as they paraded in Hyde Park in preparation for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations to be held in the summer...
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The drum horses of the mounted band were especially magnificent...
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These specially bred and trained drum horses are a unique feature of the Household Cavalry, having to carry the rider in full regalia together with a pair of heavy silver drums.
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As we watched, a hundred and seventy horses paraded for inspection by the General Officer Commanding the Household Division, Major General Christopher Ghika, and then performed a number of ceremonial exercises lasting over an hour. It was an exhilarating display of horsemanship accompanied by some excellent martial music - and it was absolutely free...

Our London 'home' is very close to Hyde Park which is radiant with spring colour, but many of the streets of London are simply bursting with blooms. Magnificent magnolias snuggle in the shelter of the tall buildings.
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However, when it comes to blooms, nothing is likely to rival the moat of the 11th century Tower of London. Preparations are under way to turn the fortresses's moat into a meadow filled with twenty million flowers to commemorate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year. Hundreds of tons of specially prepared soil are being poured into the moat in which the 20,000,000 plants will grow.
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After two weeks of warm sunshine in England we decided to stay for a third - and then it snowed!
Yes, dear reader, an arctic freeze swept south and plunged the temperature nearly 20 degrees overnight.
Only a few more days and we will head south to Spain.

Now - today's puzzle. Is this some creative piece of modern art or part of some monumental historical artifact?
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Answer next time as we take a tour around London's high spots (hint!).

Posted by Hawkson 17:19 Archived in England Comments (7)

Blooming Britain

sunny 18 °C

When our government finally loosened the reigns and permitted us to venture back into the world, we decided that the British Isles might be the safest place to start. We planned a two-month tour that encompassed visits to all the family and to the four corners of Britain. And then the storms hit! One hurricane after another lashed the U.K. a few weeks ago and when we looked at the potential forecast for April, we cancelled almost all our plans and settled on sunny Spain instead. However, we first had to visit the family members in England whom we had not seen for more than two years, and so we dressed to suit the proverb that we learned as children. “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers...”
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But we were children long before “climate change” upended the weather. Two weeks of sunshine with temperatures hovering near 20 degrees have brought Britain into bloom more than a month early. As we drove across the country from London to the West of England the buds burst, and flowers simply shot out of the roadsides...
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The darling buds of May burst forth– in March! Daffodils, primroses, cowslips, celandines, peonies and magnolias were all in bloom, together with the first tulips and bluebells. Even the palm trees had put on their summer fronds...
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By the end of our first week with barely a cloud in the sky and summer-like temperatures we thought, 'this won't last'. But it did. The Tudor houses and great cathedral of the ancient market town of Hereford simply glowed in the warm sunshine...
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Hereford cathedral was begun 1079 but its most famous antiquity is this map of the known world that was created on a sheet of vellum made from a whole calf's skin around 1300...
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The Mappa Mundi was neglected for centuries but was restored in 1855. It is so rare and valuable that it was carefully hidden during the Second World War. However, in 1988, the cathedral was in such bad shape physically and financially that consideration was given to selling the map. Many benefactors came to the cathedral's aid and allowed it to retain one of its great treasures. The other treasure of Hereford Cathedral is the world's largest chain library...
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In medieval times, beautifully handwritten and illuminated manuscripts took months or even years to write and many of the books in this library are five or six hundred years old, These theological tomes were irreplaceable, so were chained to the shelves to prevent light-fingered clergymen from adding to their private collections.

Our visit to Hereford enabled Sheila to re-unite with five of her childhood friends: a reunion which was planned to take place in 2020 but was delayed by Covid...
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Here are the six friends together with Sir Edgar Elgar, the famous composer who was born in Hereford.
From Hereford we continued southwest to Devon, stopping overnight in one of the country's oldest hotels: The George at Norton St. Philip...
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We slept in a room that has been in use for some 700 years. Luckily, they have changed the beds.
From Norton St. Philip, we travelled on to the north Devon coast before crossing Exmoor to the south coast at Exmouth where Sheila was reacquainted with a friend from her teaching days in China forty years ago...
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It may be March, but the warm spring weather brought out the buckets and spades and we even saw people swimming in the sea...
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Now we are in London. There is so much to see and do that we may not rush off to Spain right away. In the meantime – here's a question for our Canadian readers. All over southern England we spotted these giant 'nests' high in the trees. But what kind of creature could have made them?
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If you have read this far – thank you very much for your patience. We have so many travel tales still to tell and have a lot of catching up to do. So, we are very happy that are joining us on our travels. See you soon from sunny London.

Posted by Hawkson 15:55 Archived in England Comments (13)

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