Sunday, 31 July 2016

Manilva's Night of Enchantment

We did not plan to visit the hilltop village of Manilva at the weekend. So it was by mere accident that we stumbled across the annual Night of Enchantment (Noche de Embrujo) which was held last night.

Every year, the town is illuminated by candlelights, the smell of fresh mint littered on the street and music and dancing takes place on pop-up stages along the main street while houses keep their doors open to welcome visitors and residents alike.

At midday when we first explored the town, we witnessed the ongoing preparations for the evening, took a peek at the open doors and windows of the houses along the streets, took in the views surrounding the town from the various viewpoints and bought a pair of earrings from a group of little girls who were playing street vendors in front of their house.

In the evening when it was much cooler, it was a more pleasant walk. We sat down for a drink as live music played around us. And I felt the thrill and excitement of flamenco music and dance for the first time.

We didn't go home until after midnight. Experiences like this remind us why our Spain was never about the sun, sand and sea. It was about these little cultural delights that enlivens the soul.

Friday, 3 June 2016

El Faro de la Alcaidesa: A Weekend Walk

Away from the beach towels and sun hats that swarm the beach of Alcaidesa all whole year round, the lone tower that is Faro de Carbonera, stands in its quiet corner high up the hill with the Sierra Bermeja in the background and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea that stretches out to the horizon.

One weekend, we decided to pay her a visit.

The easiest way would have been to follow the long shore that hugs the sandy beach eastwards until you reach Punta Mala where a walking path leads up to the tower. But we were feeling adventurous and took the car to follow the track that borders the development through a dirt road, passing through a menacing military outpost before eventually parking a few meters off the lighthouse.

This is not a recommended course to take. It isn't a pleasant trip and there are no fantastic views along the way that would make up for it (although there were dog walkers and people picking golf balls that went over the fence).

But if you follow the flat and wide track that leads to the lighthouse where you can let a child loose without a fuss, you will be distracted by some fascinating wild flowers along the path. And the views that look out to the sea towards the Rock of Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco are spectacular even on a cloudy day.

If you want to carry on towards the beach, you can follow the path that winds downwards, passing through a carpet of spring flowers sprawling by the hillside amidst the backdrop of the urbanisations of Alcaidesa and the golf course beside it. 

And if you are not keen on the trek back where the car is parked, you can opt to take the beach route, although if you are the unlucky one to take the car back, you will be beaten off to get to the viewpoint at the turn-off just before the chiringuito. This is of those few times when the modern modes of transport is no match to a good old walk by the beach.

Monday, 28 March 2016

The White Village of Casares

Many places in Andalusia still leaves you with a sense of having stepped back in time. The photogenic town of Casares, with its white silhouettes of houses sprawling up the hillside and surrounded by the mountainous territory that is Serrania de Ronda, is one such place. Whichever way you approach it, nothing prepares you for the spectacular views it affords from all angles, the distinctive outlines of white sugar cube houses crowned by an Arab castle perched on top of the hill.

We used the toll road and drove along a row of wind turbines, most fascinating to a two year-old who likes anything that goes round and round. There is a tourist information centre just before the entrance to the town and I managed to inform the attendant that I speak no Spanish. She was kind enough to give us a direction to the free car park in perfect English and bade us away with a map of the village.

From the car park, the main village square is reached through a labyrinth of winding streets, passing by local people gossiping on the street. The smell of newly-baked bread from the panaderia made our stomachs rumble but soon enough we found ourselves in front of the water feature called Carlos III Fountain, built in 1785 using neo-classical style which marks the centre of town.

While having our favourite breakfast of cafe con leche and pan y tomate con aceite de oliva, we witnessed village elders hold their council on a couple of benches at the back of a church wall. Locals and tourists crossed the square. Older women hovered around their doorsteps watching the daily goings-on unfold before them. Like they, and many others before them, would have done for ages.

We would have happily stayed there but the square was getting busier and other people needed our seat so we thanked the owner of the cafe who was running a one man show and made our way up the steep hill to the ruins of the moorish wall and the castle, admiring the plants adorning the walls of the houses and greeting everyone we pass by.

The fortress was built in the 13th Century on Roman foundations and the 16th Century Church of the Incarnation, originally a Franciscan-capuchin convent, features a Mundejar tower.

We walked along the walls of the ruins, admiring the views of the town below and following the little boy as he ran around the ruins. On the other side opposite the church is a viewpoint with a panoramic view over olive groves, orchards and forests agains the backdrop of the Mediterranean sea.

The cemetery, located within the castle enclosure is also a site to visit. It is known for its circular construction with whitewashing niches. It was closed when we visited but we were able to admire it through the iron gates.

We used the coastal road on our way home, following a scenic route of hills and wooden areas and dotted with restaurants offering local Andalusian cuisine. We promised to stop by another time, for now content to have our fill of the beautiful Casares.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Urban Art in Industrial Andalucia

Street art Europe
My journey to work every day includes a romantic view of the sun rising over the horizon as the car weaves its way towards the prominent Rock of Gibraltar. But as we get closer towards Britain Under the Sun, we have to pass by the industrial heartland of what is otherwise our Andalusian paradise.

The looming towers of CEPSA oil refinery, the largest pollution pumping machinery in the Iberian peninsula, prompts Isaac to shout "fire, hot" every time it comes into view. Perhaps unsurprisingly for one the poorest area in Southern Spain, there is a residential area built around it but one that very few tourists would probably venture towards.

But over the weekend, after taking a wrong turn to get back to the main road towards our safe and well-maintained suburban estate by the seaside, we found ourselves off the beaten track and discovered a street art gallery along the coastal road that hugs the oil refinery. For a big urban art enthusiast, this is indeed a treasure find!
Street Art EuropeUrban ArtUrban Art SpainUrban Art SpainUrban Art SpainUrban Art SpainUrban Art Spain

Friday, 21 August 2015

A Day Trip to Nottingham

Nottingham Old Market Square
In the child-free days of our marriage, John and I used to spend our weekends hopping on the train from Sheffield station for a day trip or getting on the car to the Peak District, to explore nearby English towns and cities. Nowadays, with a little boy in tow, we have contented ourselves with the easy predictability of walks in the park or coffee mornings by the riverside, for as much joy a child brings in your lives they do sap out a lot of your energy and zest for adventure (and doing anything seems more expensive!).

This summer we vowed to recapture the thrill of new experiences. And with Isaac's growing infatuation with Thomas the Tank Engine, we decided to take him out on a train journey. But with Britain's transport system being probably the worst in western Europe, we struggled to find anywhere to go that wouldn't be too costly for a family of three to go and visit for a day. That's how we settled for Nottingham in the East Midlands, a 50-minute ride from Sheffield for only £27 on the train.

Our two-year-old has been on train journeys before, when his boredom could be eased by a breastfeed that would send him to sleep. This time would be a more challenging one, or so we thought, but we were determined not to succumb to any form of electronic distractions so we brought a book, a Thomas train and some flashcards. We shouldn't have been nervous, children find ways of entertaining themselves. Isaac made faces to an older boy who sat opposite us on our way to Nottingham and they kept each other happy throughout the trip.

The journey went quicker than we thought (we left Sheffield at 9:30am) and from the train station, we took the tram to the city centre. We have read about the transport system of the city being the best outside London and it is well-deserved. The tram and bus systems were reliable and cheap (an adult train and bus ticket costs £4 a day) and we didn't haven any problems getting around.
Nottingham Kings Walk
We took the tram from the train station and got off at Old Market Square, located in the heart of the city and dominated by the Council House, a Neo-Baroque display with an iconic 200 feet high dome that is the centrepiece of the skyline.
In Within the square, Nottingham Riviera has been set up complete with beach sand and chairs, a paddling pool and fairgrounds typical of a British beach resort.  From Market Square, we wandered up King's Street, looking up the impressive Victorian architecture around the square and found Brian Clough's statue (a football hero who managed Nottingham Forest in their most successful spell in history). Around the market square is an abundance of high end shops along the pebbled walk housed by pre-war structures oozing with character. We went inside the Exchange Arcade that is within the Council House, the city's oldest shopping gallery with a collection of up-market independent stores enclosed within the mellow York stone walls and the magnificent dome with painted murals by a local artist capturing the historic events in the city. Outside the building, we found a Zara shop and did some shopping, impressed with the things on offer. We went down High Street and then turned to St Peters Gate which took us back to the square. We decided to have our packed lunches at Wollaton Hall and asked some locals for direction. We didn't have to walk far, bus stations run along the Market Street in front of the Old Market Square and Upper Parliament Street. On one of the streets, we passed by one of the oldest pubs in Notthingham (for apparently there are a lot of them that claims this title).

We took the TWO bus to Wollaton Park, a beautiful Elizabethan mansion with an expansive parkland. Entry was free and we had our lunch near the front entrance to the house admiring the views from the top of the hill. Then we explored the gardens at the back of the hall, while the exhausted little boy had his two-hour nap in the pram.
After the leisurely walk, we took the Number 30 bus back to town, getting off at Nottingham Trent University and made our way down towards the market square. We walked past a number of independent streets along the way.  We followed the map towards Nottingham Castle (which is not a castle but a small stately home) but decided that we didnt have enough time to explore it so we just got on the queue to take selfies at Robin Hood's statue just outside the castle walls. Then we walked towards the train station but did a short detour down a bridge at Carrington Street to listen to live music playing outside Canal House along the canal. Then before going inside the train station, I took a photo of the street art on one of the walls in front of the station that I saw through the tram earlier. Some Asian tourists saw me taking photos and they took some too! We got on the 4:15pm train back to Sheffield and was home by 5:30pm, not too exhausted to make dinner and relieve the experiences of the day. We only spent £35 on transport and because we brought packed lunch, we didn't have to spend anything on food. So it was definitely a cheap day trip!

The verdict:
The city of Nottingham has more than the legend of Robin Hood to offer. With an excellent transport system, plenty of independent cafes and restaurants and a superb shopping experience, it is a great place to visit! We are definitely coming back again. 

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