Right after 9/11, I planned a trip to Spain and Portugal to play golf. Sheri decided to stay home due to the 9/11 related issues. So my friend Mike and I went without the spouses. Two years later, I talked Sheri into going, and we also had our friend Ingrid with us as well. We rented a large two bedroom apartment in Puerto Banus, just slightly west of Marbella, and home to the most exotic yachts in the world, including the yacht of the King of Saudi Arabia.
I found the apartment through a broker in London. Essentially the two bedroom place cost the same as a room at a moderate level hotel in Spain. If you go to Spain, I heartily recommend the paradores, as the government has renovated an entire army of historic buldings and old hotels into the bargain of the century. The hotels are located in prime locations, reasonably priced, and very interesting to see. Our next trip there will be exclusively in the paradores.
We left SFO in curious fashion. Sheri and I upgraded using some of our miles, Ingrid had obtained a free ticket through her credit card. We three checked in together and killed time in the Red Carpet lounge. When it came time to board, they called Ingrid and told her she would also be upgraded to Business, since we checked in together. For this little deed, I was promised a lifetime supply of homemade apple pies.
We had a wonderful flight to London, and caught our British Airways shuttle to Malaga as evening drew near. Now, driving in Spain, right at dusk, and trying to remember how to get to Puerto Banus was a chore. After a few fits and starts, we pulled up to our apartment. It was located about a half mile from the center of town, on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean, and covered with beautiful flowers and trees. It was a nice surprise.
The apartment itself was fairly modern, clean and large, as we took the master, and Ingrid took the equally large second bedroom. The apartment had a small kitchen, but huge living room and dining room areas, as well as two decks, two bathrooms, and an excellent view of the sea. This was going to be a great week. If you go to Spain, I strongly suggest breaking the trip up into 2 or 3 trips. It is just too much to see Madrid, Seville, Barcelona, Gibraltar and the Costa del Sol in one trip.
Recalling my trip of the previous year, we were able to find all the necessary things, like the grocery store, internet cafes, main roads, and the crazy nightlife of Puerto Banus. The reason for staying in PB rather than Marbella is convenience. Marbella is older, very crowded, with awful traffic. PB is nore laidback, with easy freeway and beach access, and lots to do and see.
One of the many sidetrips we took was the day trip over to Tangiers, Morocco that I will tell you about next time. Another great day trip is the drive up to one of the “white” cities, Ronda. But let me warn you, the drive is quite a windy, twisting road, full of cars, buses, and scooters. The girls got a little carsick even though I was trying to drive slowly. The train and bus also go up there. But it is worth it to get to Ronda.
These towns are called white due to their whitewashed walls. They are beautiful against the Spanish countryside and hills. The view from Ronda is unique for the following reason. The town is built on a gorge, separated by an enormous bridge that spans the El Tajo Gorge, and extends deep into the river valley (rio Guadalevin) 100 meters below. The story is that the Spanish used this cliff area to protect against invasion by the Moors. It was effective to say the least!!
Ronda, like many small towns in Spain, has dozens of narrow cobblestone streets, filled with shops, cafes, and apartments. The first thing we did upon arrival was find a sidewalk cafe on the main square(Plaza Duquesa de Parcent) for a light lunch. We set off to explore the town, walk across the huge gorge on the bridge, and shop. We also ran into the bull ring, where modern bullfighting began in Spain. We also found a great shoe store on a side street, and many street artists along the way. It was a relaxing way to spend the day, except for the drive. Good thing the Spaniards are generally laid back, and very tolerant of tourists.
Back in PB, we found that the old bull ring and stadium was walking distance from our apartment. And Saturday this would be the site of the largest and best open air market in southern Spain. We found a few things, like a great leather backpack with matching overnight bag. Sheri found some great serving trays and cutting boards. But Ingrid went crazy. She found shoes, purses, and more shoes and purses. She bought so much, it covered her bed when we got back to the apartment. We ended up taking it all down to Fedex, and shipping a huge box home, to the tune of $100 in shipping charges.
Seafood is the best in this port town, but our story is just insane. As we walked by the many nice seafood places, the fresh fish and shellfish is displayed on ice by the front entrance. We found a nice Spanish lady who showed us some great looking shellfish. So, Ingrid and I placed an order for this great looking shellfish, and Sheri ordered a grilled fish. It was a real delight, as it turned out every bit as well as we expected, except!! The bill arrived, and when we calculated Euros into dollars, the bill was over $300. We forgot to ask how much the tasty shellfish cost per kilo.
Our other dining experiences, needless to say, were a little more cautious after this. One highlight was an Italian pizza and pasta place(Picasso’s) down on the water. Let’s skip the pizza and pasta, and go directly to dessert. The previous year, Mike and I saw many French tourists order a crepe. I wanted to return to this place, if only to taste the crepes. After our meal, we ordered a crepe, with vanilla ice cream. It arrives, and is the size of a large pizza. The huge mound of ice cream sits in the middle. But before we can start eating, the waiter comes by and pours a gallon or so of Grand Marnier on the crepe, and lights it. Shortly after this bonfire burns itself out, we try the crepe. It was well worth the wait, the best crepe we have ever had.
I found time to play golf one day when the girls wanted to hang out at our beautiful pool. I drove up the hill to a nearby golf course, rented some clubs, and met two guys on the first tee. They appeared to be German, but knew English pretty well. After a good shot by one of them, I yelled out in German, “ausgetzeitnecht”, meaning and spelling (I think), outstanding. They gave me a very puzzled look.
A few holes later, I finally worked up the nerve to ask what language they were speaking. It turns out they were speaking the ancient language of Iceland. It is a derivative of Scandinavian languages brought over to Iceland by early explorers like Leif Ericson. No wonder I got the confused look when my broken German made its ugly appearance. We ended up having a great time, several beers, and much talk about their homeland.
By now, you are probably wondering why we did not go to the beach during the day. As you can guess, the Spanish women love to bathe topless. I guess the girls were trying to protect me from eyestrain, or anything else that could be embarassing. I tried to sneak over there a bunch of times, but one or both would always want to run errands with me.
We found the cutest little grocery store and Chinese restaurant at the bottom of the hill below the apartment complex. We enjoyed seeing what they had each day, even if we did not know what it was. The Chinese restaurant was rather curious. The staff was Chinese, but only spoke Spanish and English. I tried the only few Chinese food related words on them and got the strangest looks. It turns out they do NOT speak any type of Chinese!!!!
The giant Carrefours department store was another hangout of ours. Starting in the bargain basement, the quality and price of the merchandise goes up as the floors go higher. We bought groceries, gifts, and souvenirs here. When we looked for crisco for my first of the free lifetime apple pies, we could not communicate the word crisco into its Spanish equivalent. So we ended up with lard. We did find some really nice leather jackets and soccer shirts here, however.
Another favorite of mine in Spain is the jamon (ham), specifically the black hooved variety, which is the finest. The entire leg sits on the bar or restaurant counter, on a special rack. A long knife sits on top, and is used to shave thin slices of the jamon when it is ordered. It goes great with beer or wine, fabulous in sandwiches, or good just by itself. The girls could not stand the look or smell of these legs. Then I found jamon jeaven. A store had nothing but black hooved jamon, hanging all over the walls. Hundreds of gorgeous legs for the taking. But illegal to bring back home to the US.
Spain has the best bread we have ever had. It is fresh every day, and goes well with any meal. Some stores sell only bread, no other pastries or baked goods. It goes especially well with my jamon.
One side trip I had to take was to the famous golf courses that we played the year before. I wanted to buy a pair of golf shoes that I should have bought the year before. I talked the girls into taking a drive with me, though we ended up in Tarifa for the trip to Morocco. I went into the golf store in Sotogrande, and found ONE pair of my shoes left, in MY SIZE!!! It was meant to be. I love those shoes, and Mike reminds everyone about them when we play up at his club.
One of these years we will go back to Spain. There is more to see and do. The Picasso museum opened in Malaga, his hometown. The Rock of Gibraltar and its famous monkeys are another must see. The wine country and cork business are also thriving there. Plus there are many more shoes to buy there. Every time we see Ingrid, we remind her of her many purse and shoe purchases.