Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Thalia Meets Malaga

After all of our teary goodbyes we bid our family goodbye at Malaga international and hopped on the Renfe train to Malaga Alameda Centro Station (1.60€). This quick and nifty train leaves from Terminal 3 and drops you not in the heart of the old quarter but about 20 minutes away.

It was a beautiful sunny day so we opted to walk it, though with Thalia and gear it was a bit of a hike with many hills and a few wrong turns as Siri got her bearings in the windey streets. 
Arriving at Malaga Alameda Central Station is at first glimpse not Malaga's best side. Malaga's River Guadalmedina is mostly dried up and is now a swamp
bed of sorts with graffiti tags lining the walls.
However a short walk on and the city evolves into a beautiful seaside city where old meets new in the most fantastic and fun way.

Malaga has had a reputation in Spain as being a grungy port town but thanks to a 100 million Euro investment in building restoration and tourism infrastructure over the last 10 years and incredibly sweet and friendly locals Malaga became one of our favourite cities in Spain.

With its 3 km ocean boardwalk full of cool cafes, beaches and playgrounds for the kids, a chic harbour, and bustling old quarter complete with Alcazaba (Moor Fort) and Roman Theatre, Malaga is a treat for all. 

And if that isn't enough, the Pompidou Center, Picasso Museum (he was born and lived here until age 10) and Fashion and Car Museum will definitely impress. 

And being here at Christmas we had the added bonus of witnessing the citiy's new investment from Illumanacion Ximenez, a Spanish lighting company from Córdoba who is responsible for providing Christmas lights from New York
to Tokyo. The Municipality hired this lighting company to design lighting for the holiday season and it did not disappoint! The streets are lit up with literal tunnels of lights and an array of different shapes and artistic designs.

Malaga is magic because it blends what you expect and don't expect in perfect harmony. 
We stayed 6 nights so had ample opportunity to really take in its soul and left feeling like we may have stumbled upon Spain's most underrated city.

Additionally, we had an extra good time as we met up with my aunt, uncle and cousin from The Netherlands for a reunion which meant they could meet Thalia for the first time! 

She took to them instantly! They stayed in Malaga with us for the first 3 days of our stay and good
times were had! 

Here is what we did and recommend:

1) The Alcazaba

This walled fortress created by the Hammudid Moor dynasty in the 11th centuries is an unrivalled fort both for how well intact it is and how impenetrable it was. It has two outer walls, one higher up on a hill where the palace and many gardens are and one is lower at the base. It's numerous towers and its altitude are main reasons it was such an impressive stronghold. It was difficult to sneak up on this dynasty!

Though it wasn't as impressive as some others in Spain in terms of its aesthetics. The fact that the original fortress exists is incredible and walking through its winding citadel passages from serene garden to garden and admiring its numerous towers is an amazing experience and lends to why it took Isabel and Ferdinand longer to conquer this Moor stronghold than any other in Spain. It finally fell in 1487. It's easy to access as its in the old quarter on the way to the seafront. You can't miss it as the Roman Theatre rests directly in front of it.

It's 8€ but free on Sunday. Walk up the hill for great views of the city and sea.

2) The Automobile and Fashion Museum

This museum gets rave reviews on TA and honestly even with this I was still quite unsure about it as it felt like a strange combination for an exhibition and seemed to not fit with our theme of site seeing in Spain. But this is precisely why it was so great! 

This private collection is run by an artist who very historically and artistically walks you through the eras of fashion and how the invention of the car became like an extra fashion accessory.

Let me be clear, even if you don't have any strong interest in either fashion or cars, this museum manipulates the sense of vision so well with its impressive cars and fashion collection that it was a highlight. 

Take the 16 bus from Alemeda (right by the McDonalds). It's €10 entry per person. No free entry days.

3) The Picassso Museum 

This museum opened in 2003 in a renovated palace and the 89,000 sq ft houses a large number of paintings and sketches donated by Picasso's daughter in law and grandson. And though this cubist legend moved away at the age of 10 the residents here feel ownership of this great talent and have an impressive collection (though not his most famous works). It is a nice sized collection that won't give you art burn out after finishing. Plan about 2 hours to wander and enjoy. 
It's 9€ per person. Museum is free after 4:00 pm but expect long lines at this time even in low season.

4) The Pompidou Center

This sister Center to the one in Paris
is hard to miss when walking the harbour front.

 El Cubo (the cube) shaped structure that houses works from the orgiinal Center in Paris as well as a superb temporary exhibit is a treat to visit (fun a little bizarre and thought provoking, a good mix with contemporary art).

 It also has a children's area where kids of all ages including as young as Thalia (11 months) can explore art through designs, colours and shape play areas. 

It's 15€ to enter and is located on the harbour front. 

You can't miss the muti-coloured cube rising to the clouds off the water.

5) The Puerto Malaga and Beach

Another one of Malaga's investments was its harbour where an art nouveau boardwalk was built with a bike path to boot. 

There is a family friendly outdoor amphitheater with a bar, local art displays and DJ's spinning day and night on the weekends. The "canas" (beers) are affordable (1.50€) and you can dance on the waterfront while watching the city stroll along the boardwalk. 

We enjoyed this areas immensely as it allowed us to enjoy beer and tapas while allowing Thalia to enjoy playing with other kids.

Further down the boardwalk and bike path are many more bars, cafes and fancier restaurants that offer everything from traditional Spanish eats to Indian food. 

There is a fun and clean "art playground" for kids beside the Pompidou Center where we enjoyed a beer while gazing at the sea and watching hand holding roller bladers zip by. 

It is delightful place to spend half a day or more with baby. If you head under the pedestrian walkway you will hit new 

Malaga where the boardwalk continues parallel to Paseo de la Farola. This stretch is lined with Malaga's great city beaches that also have numerous play areas that cater to children 3 and up.

You can also enjoy the waterfront residences and cafes that dot the walkway. 

In total we spent a whole day wandering the harbour and boardwalk while fitting in beer and tapa breaks for us and baby! Highly recommend!

6) The Old Quarter

The old quarter in Malaga is comparable to many of the old quarters in Spain's south. Though some of the buildings are not as restored as those of Sevilla or Barcelona what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in authenticity and the pleasant lack of tacky tourist shops.
Starting at the Roman Theatre and walking North you can get lost but never really lost in this spectacular labyrinth of romantic and twisting streets. Around every corner lies a warm cup of cafe con leche or a hot chocolate and churros and beer and tapas won't abandon you anywhere. Additionally the old quarter is lined with local artist shops selling everything from paintings to organic T-shirts. 

And if bigger names are your thing, Calle Marques de Larios is a pedestrian splender of shopping and people watching. This street is not to be missed at Christmas as the most magnificent of light displays hovers above your every step!

Tip: check out Mercado Merced in the old quarter. This indoor food and drink market is baby friendly and offers all kinds of Spanish delights for a reasonable price.

Malaga's locals are incredibley friendly and welcoming and its under the radar identity make this small city a charmer particularly in the winter months when temps of 20 C are common.
With its drive to attract travellers creating a plethora of attractions and a fun laid back coastal vibe. Malaga was high on our list for baby friendly cities to take a load off and unwind.

Costa del Sol: Grandparents with Baby Thalia

While planning our Spanish itinerary we were hoping to soak up as much sun as possible so that naturally took us to the Costa del Sol, translating roughly as the Sun Coast of Spain. My parents spoiled us with planning a week vacation at the beautiful Alanda Club Resort in Marbella and Josh's parents joined us too! For Thalia to have any grandparents around let alone all four was amazing leaving us wishing she could create memories of this wonderful trip. 

Marbella is a small beachside city that has a rich history lending to a dichotomy of a lovely historical center and a modern puerto (beach walkway) filled with trendy shops and cafes. 

We enjoyed touring around Marbella's Old Quarter which exuded a sense of romance with the narrow winding cobblestone streets. Boutique shops were plenty and although too expensive to purchase much, they were perfect for browsing in. 

The famous Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Plaza) created a lot of fodder for 
jokes when while we were caught in a vicious rainstorm Josh (in his enthusiastic wisdom) thought my parents would enjoy to see the Plaza when instead they thought they were being lead to the dry harbour of the car. I think the phrase, "Are you crazy?!" was jokingly exclaimed when the confusion cleared. We all had a good laugh!

 Returning the next day (still laughing about said miscommunication) we were waylaid by construction blocking our view and it wasn't until we were joined by Sharilyn and Alan did we finally enjoy the Plaza and sit down for their first tapas in Spain. Having been to many Spanish plazas recently I did not find this particular one to be extraordinary but I always love seeing the geometric symmetry of the cobblestones with the calming presence of the orange trees. Our tapas were nice with croquetas being the clear favourite although we could have found cheaper options away from the plaza. 

A really neat street in Marbella is Avenida del Mar which is a walkway tribute to Salvador Dali full of his statues leading down to the ocean. Starting at the serene Plaza de la Alameda you can take your time strolling towards the sparkling water while enjoying spectacular art. Regardless of your preference for art, seeing anything created by Dali is guaranteed to stimulate your mind and create much fodder for conversation. This was definitely the most unique attraction in Marbella reminding us that there is more depth to the coast than just sunshine and beaches. 

Another day we traveled to Estapona to experience another sleepy beachside city. We had wanted to visit a newer attraction featuring gardens (Orquidario de Estapona) with an orchid farm however we hadn't planned for a siesta and the times did not work with our schedule. 

Estapona also has a walking tour with murals placed all around the city, allowing for areas outside of the old quarter to garner some attention. Although we saw a couple and they were neat to see, we did not seek them out and preferred to wander the winding streets of the historical center. 

We were lucky to stumble across a children's play area in a restaurant which allowed Thalia time to crawl and release some energy. Here we learned that her favourite colour must be orange as she was obsessed with picking out this particular colour! 

Plaza de las Flores was a highlight and we were all delighted by each little street and how each section coordinated with a specific coloured pots lending to an quaint and charming aesthetic. 

On the way to Estepona is a huge El Corte Ingles department store that we explored on a particularly rainy day. Although no one purchased much we all enjoyed looking at the outrageous designer labels and eating menu del Dia at the restaurant. Definitely worth a visit for the shopping lovers! 

A definite highlight of our time was our day trip to Ronda. Our day was so spectacular that we wished we had more time or that we could have stayed overnight. My parents had already been and opted to take a day trip to the Alhambra instead so it was just the five of us making our way up the mountain with its intense landscape of cliffs and a stark winding road that had a couple of us feeling motion sick. 

Ronda was declared a city by Julius Caesar in the 4th century and with its Roman history, it is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Spain. Steeped in history sitting on top of a deep valley, to say it is simply breathtaking is a colloquialism that does not do it justice. 

The most spectacular attraction is the Peunte Neuvo, the "new bridge" and we all could not get enough of the spectacular and dizzying view. Sharilyn kept laughing at how it was called the "new bridge" as it was completed in 1793 after 42 years of construction and we were transported in time imaging the feat of man to construct this and theorizing about Napoleon casting his enemies off the bridge. 

The views of the El Tajo Gorge were so spectacular we could have stayed for hours looking at the view from different angles and we did have lunch at a nearby hotel to continue soaking it all in. It would be well worth the trek to see the bridge from a trail below but we did not have the time. 

Plaza de Toros is one of the oldest and most spectacular bull rings in Spain. Created in 1785 by the same architect of the Peunte Neuvo (Jose Martin Aldehuela) it was one of the most interesting things we had seen in Spain and we thoroughly enjoyed the audio guide explaining the origins of bull fighting and the modernization of the spectacle. 

Whatever your views on this controversial "sport", the history was fascinating and just laying eyes on one of the oldest bullrings in Spain was a sight not to be missed. 

Seeing where the bulls were kept before entering the ring and hearing what was done prior to engaging them was difficult but fascinating nonetheless. 

Palacio de Mondragon is a Moorish palace built in 1314 and later the primary residence of Isabella and Fernidand. 

After reading reviews I thought this would be a great taste of Moorish style for Sharilyn to see however we were fairly disappointed and left shortly after entering. It actually houses a municipal museum which to be fair, we had no interest in seeing. The gardens were purported as being serene and lovely however we found them to be small and not noteworthy in the least. Of course the views were awe inspiring but no more special than the free views afforded by the many lookout points like Alameda del Tajo which is a pretty park not to be missed. 

Leaving Ronda was bittersweet as it also brought to a close our week with our parents. Sharilyn and I laughed at our antics while driving home as we were so desperate to occupy Thalia we gave her a pill bottle (with pills in it) and an charging cord to play with but it worked well and gave us some peace! Overall, we had so much fun enjoying tapas, exploring old quarters, dancing to Elvis (who would have thought?) and seeing the beautiful beaches. 

Thalia revelled in the attention of her doting grandparents and it was so heartwarming to see her smile and enjoy their company. 

She enjoyed being fed by Grandpa Wes and being worn in the Ergo by Grandpa Alan while both Grandmas would get giggles and smiles out of her by being goofy and funny all the time. 

We were so glad we included the Costa del Sol in our itinerary and we were pleasantly surprised to find it more dynamic and exciting than just beaches and tourist traps! The Spanish culture is a bit watered down catering to the flood of British tourists they receive every year and we would prefer not to see and hear English everywhere we go. Visiting this region with realistic expectations of what you are going for will allow for a more rich and rewarding experience and the plethora of day trip worthy attractions nearby really adds to the appeal. With that in mind we were ready to explore Malaga, a bit of a fly under the radar city we had read a lot about and we left the sleepy, touristy city behind.