An Andalusian Adventure

by Bob Sparrow

Here Comes the Sun – on sale this week!

My Spanish isn’t that good, but I do know that Costa del Sol, which is the area we’re going to, means something like ‘sunny coast’, but we are greeted in Malaga (pronounced MAL-a-ga) by a rainstorm.  But it’s a light shower that goes away shortly after we get there, so we decide to stretch our legs and go for a walk down to the marina, as Malaga sits on the Mediterranean Sea.  It is a Sunday with lots of people out strolling, but very few shops are open.  The marina holds one particular boat that gets our attention, named Here Comes the Sun after the Beatles song, written by George Harrison; it’s simply spectacular AND we discovered that it’s for sale – only $195,000,000!

Coast line of Malaga

We’re back at our hotel by 5:00 to meet up with our guide and the 10 other people, some from the U.S. some from other parts of the world, who will be joining us on the rest of our journey.  At our meeting we enjoy several tapas dishes and some beer, wine or sangria as our guide, Daniel, who is very entertaining, introduces himself and goes through the travel agenda and some rules for the group.  The first rule he mentions is, we are not going to be on ‘Spanish time’, which is, if you’re supposed to be somewhere at 7:00, you can show up at 7:30 and not be ‘late’, and you can even show up at 7:45 and you’re still ‘on time’.  He says we’re going to be more like Germans on this tour, SHOW UP ON TIME, or you will be left behind!

After our ‘Meet and Greet’, we head across the ‘No River’ – that’s not the real name, but rather what our guide called it, because there is very seldom any water in it – to a hotel that has a rooftop bar 10 stories up.  And so we get an excellent view of the city and harbor as we have a nightcap or two, share some stories and watch the sun go down.  A great ending to what started out as a rainy day.

One of Picasso’s last paintings

Monday morning, we met our ‘local guide’, a delightful, well-informed woman named Lourdes, who knows her way through the narrow, maze-like streets of this city like the back of her hand, while pointing out historical and other interesting sites, with a great sense of humor.  Our first stop was a giant food market – it’s fairly quiet because it was Sunday and fishermen do not work on Sunday, but the market was still full of all kinds of fruits, vegetables and meats (mostly pig) and we had a chance to taste some delicious olives and nuts as well as watching a carving craftsman cut razor-thin slices of pork and package them for sale.  We also got to see the special carriages created for Holy Week, one holding the Virgin Mary and the other holding the coffin of Jesus.  The city’s architecture reflects the interesting history of Andalucía with its influence of Roman, Arabic and Catholic culture.  The food here is different and amazing; we usually ate small plates of a variety of food – tapas.  Yes, there were times when I hankered for a nice steak or some good pasta, but the food was amazing.

Our afternoon tour was highlighted by the Picasso Museum; as famous, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga. Our tour guide, Lourdes, was an expert on Picasso’s life and art, so the museum really came alive for us with her as our guide.  We finished the evening with another creative, tapas dinner and then at another rooftop bar, just across the river from our hotel, where stories of the days’ activities were shared.

All white Frigiliana

The next morning, after breakfast, we were on a bus for a day-trip to Frigiliana and Nerja.  Frigiliana is one of the most beautiful ‘white villages’ of Andalusia; no it’s not made up of only white people, but rather every building in this village overlooking the Mediterranean, is painted white as it gets quite hot here and the white color helps deflect the sun’s heat.  We see homes and shops stacked together on this hillside as we walk through the narrow cobblestone streets of this picturesque village.

Nerja caves

Our next stop on this day-trip is the town of Nerja, while this city is called the ‘Balcony of Europe, as it sits on a cliff with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean, the main attraction in the town are the caves.  Huge caves that now have stairs in them so that you can go down several hundred feet, but the ceilings are high, in fact this is the home to the world’s largest stalactites.  Awesome!!  I’ll insert a photo here, but I’m sure it won’t do the place justice.

Back to Malaga for our last dinner in town on our own, then get lost in the maze that is Malaga on our way home.  But we made it.  Malaga has moved into contention as one of my favorite cities in the world.  Great food, great wine, great people!

More to come after Memorial Day week



Off to Madrid

by Bob Sparrow


One typically doesn’t look forward to 13 hours in the air plus another three or four sitting around an airport waiting, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the ‘getting there’ part of this journey to Madrid, but I have to say, this trip was pretty painless.  Two reasons: 1) our group of ten travelers was always entertaining, typically grabbing the attention of those around us with our laughter, either in the airport or on the plane, and 2) British Airways, which has now become my favorite airline.  From Los Angeles to London, we were in ‘Economy Plus’, which had the benefits of a little more legroom and unlimited free alcohol.  And it seemed that the more unlimited alcohol we had the more unlimited fun we had.  Since our seats were not together, but rather spread throughout the Economy Plus area, our conversations with each other were spread across the entire section and seemed to get the rest of the passengers involved in our good time.  Making it even better was that the flight attendants handling our section were good, fun and funny.   Love British Airways!

Rooftop bar at Puerta de Alcala

Once landing in Madrid and met by our bus driver, we walked what seemed several miles to get to the bus as buses are not allowed to pick up outside of where the luggage is picked up.  Not sure why.  We get to our beautiful hotel, Puerta de Alcala in Madrid, around 6:00 pm local time, which is 9 hours ahead of California.  We all had varying amounts of sleep on our redeye flight, so we decided to catch a quick nap, change the clothes that we’d been wearing for the last 24 hours, and were now a bit ‘gamey’, and meet at the hotel’s rooftop bar at 7:30 for dinner.

The rooftop bar at sunset was spectacular as was our server.  We had our first introduction to tapas as we ordered 10-12 different dishes ranging from Peruvian chicken to octopus – complemented by various drinks including some very nice Spanish Rioja wine, all very delicious.  A night cap in the downstairs bar and our body’s said, “I don’t know what time you think it is, but I need some rest!”

Madrid’s finest

After a good night’s sleep and a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, we met our tour guide, Eva, who would be taking us on a walking tour of Madrid.  We walked through all parts of the city (six hours worth), seeing the palace, the world-famous museum, the park, the opera house, all the major sites in Madrid, with Eva giving us great detail on the history of this magnificent city.  It’s really hard to imagine the amazing architecture and relate it to America, where something in the US is an antique if it’s one to two hundred years old; here, there are things that are thousands of years old.

Before we head out to dinner at a restaurant just a few blocks away, we meet at the hotel bar and have each person tell the group what their favorite part of the day was.  While the guys listed things like the palace, the museum, a great deli, the girls were most interested in the young, studly, local police officers who were guarding the congressional building.  OK, maybe it wasn’t their favorite, but it was close!

Dinner in Madrid

We walked to our restaurant for our 7:30 reservation; the place was empty except for one other couple.  Again, another great dinner of salmon, veal, Ox tail, along with some great olives and bread.  By the time we left at 9:30, the place was packed and people were still coming in for dinner.  After dinner we wandered the streets for a bit, stopped to have a drink and discovered a Michelin three-star restaurant and made a reservation for tomorrow night.

Our last day in Madrid is ‘on our own’, so the group scatters to all part of the city; with everyone hitting the Prada Museum, as it holds one the world’s greatest collection of art; works from Raphael, Ruben, Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt, just to name a few.  I was amazed at the size of the paintings; many of them were 8-10 feet wide and 12-14 feet high, some bigger.  After the museum we walked another couple of miles through the city to eat lunch at the ‘World’s Oldest Restaurant’ – it’s been open since 1725, but we needed to make a reservation as it was Saturday and the city was buzzing with activity, so we never got in, but the Warrens and the Webbs made it, as we saw them dining there when we arrived.  Then back to the hotel for a little rest before we topped off the evening with dinner at a Michelin 3-star restaurant within walking distance from our hotel.  After tapas for two days, a nice steak tasted mighty good!

Malaga without the rain

Sunday is ‘moving day, so it’s up early for breakfast then a bus to the train station and a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Malaga, where our ‘official Collette ‘Spain coast/Portuguese Riviera Tour’ starts.   We arrived around 1:00 pm in a fairly heavy rainstorm, check into our hotel and meet up with the other travelers at the ‘Welcome Meeting’.

Next report is on Thursday

Spain, Portugal and Topless Bars

by Bob Sparrow

Spain & Portugal

In my next missive, I’ll be coming to you from somewhere in Spain or Portugal and as I’ve prepared for this six-couple, 16-day trip, I have, of course, researched the major cities we will be visiting – Madrid, Malaga, Ronda (Help me!!), Seville, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra and Fatima.  You’ll be hearing highlights from each of these burgs as we visit them.  But what has really kept me busy these last few weeks is learning the amazing history of the ‘Iberian Peninsula’.  To wit:

  • Spain was once THE most powerful country in the world; it had spread its influence to North, Central and South America as well as taking over the Philippines for over 300 years. It has left a whole lot of people, all over the world, speaking Spanish.  While this phrase is more commonly attributed to the English, the Spanish Empire was the first where the sun never set.
  • The modern world’s first novel, Don Quixote, was written by Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Moors (Muslims), from northern Africa, invaded what is now Spain and Portugal and ruled the area for 800 years, from the early 8th century to the late 15th century, when they were ultimately defeated by Christian invaders.
  • Spain has over 600 ‘Blue Flag’ beaches (meets environmental standards), more than another other country in the

    Friendly & Fuzzy Franco

    Northern Hemisphere.

  • Although they met only days before their ‘arranged’ marriage in 1467, the wedding of Ferdinand of Aragon, who was 19, and Isabella of Castile, who was 18, unified Spain as they ruled for the next 30 years.
  • The Spanish Inquisition was intended primarily to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. According to modern estimates, around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offences during its three-century duration
  • Spain has more bars than any other European country. However, I’m sure you can appreciate my disappointment when I finally realized they were talking about ‘tapas bars’, not topless bars!
  • The famous or infamous, Generalissimo Franco, was a dictator of Spain from 1938 – 1973. Yes, Spain was under a dictatorship in the ‘70s!!  During World War II, Spain remained neutral, but supported Hitler, because he supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  Franco’s use of forced labor, concentration camps, executions and wartime killings created a death toll in the range of 420,000!

    “It’s a tapas bar, NOT a topless bar, you idiot!”

  • Portugal was the first country to practice ‘colonialism’; from the 15th century on for the next 600 years, they started creating colonies in Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, and South Asia.
  • Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan was the first to find a route to East Asia through the Americas in 1519.
  • Vasco da Gama, another Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach India by sea, thus linking Europe to Asia.
  • Fatima is the Portugal city where, as the story goes, three shepherds allegedly spotted the Virgin Mary in their fields in 1917. Since then, the number of pilgrims to Fatima run from about six to eight million every year.
  • Porto, Portugal houses the world’s most stunningly beautiful MacDonald’s restaurant  complete  with  an  elegant  chandelier.

    Portugal McDonald’s

  • There is at least one of our travel companions who wants to take a serious look at Portugal real estate – its climate is very similar to Southern California, it has great people, great beaches and great food – lots of ex-Pats there! So, if I’m not back by June 1st, you’ll know where to look for me.

OK, it’s difficult to try and summarize the historical highlights of these two ancient and amazing countries in a 600-word blog, so just plan to come along with us and see for yourself, without the hassle of delayed flights, luggage being lost or trying to figure out what not to wear to a topless bar.