Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Benalmádena, a privileged hillock rising above the sea. A watchtower overlooking the Mediterranean. An Arab-sounding name: Benalmádena. A town dipping its feet into the sea and warming its body on the sand. A city of winding streets and hustling ports, with Africa looming on the horizon. Benalmádena Pueblo. Benalmádena Costa. Arroyo de la Miel. A town to be discovered. A town to visit once and again.

Information: Planning Your Trip in Three Parts

Benalmádena is divided into three distinct urban areas. First of all, Benalmádena Pueblo, where everything began, keeping the old spirit of Andalusia on its white streets. Then, Benalmádena Costa: the sea (pleasure for your senses), the beach, the Mediterranean, leisure, lots of tourist attractions. Last but not least, Arroyo de la Miel, whose huge park is like a green lung to the Costa del Sol –a bucolic place to rest, where you can take the cable railway to Calamorro or visit Tívoli World, a funfair. Together, these three distinct areas make Benalmádena. I planned a tour that included the three of them in this order, so that I could enjoy Benalmádena at its best. I only had to change something along the way for reasons beyond my control, which you’ll read about below.

Getting Started: Getting to Benalmádena Pueblo

If you’re coming from Marbella or Cádiz, take the first exit on A7 highway reading Benalmádena (just like that, “Benalmádena”). It’s just after Fuengirola, when you reach El Higuerón. If you’re coming from Málaga or Granada instead, take exit 217 of A7 highway, past the cable railway, when you begin driving down to Fuengirola. Beginning your tour here makes the linear route easy to follow through the three urban areas. Exiting at 217, follow the signs indicating you’re coming to Benalmádena Pueblo. And the first thing you’ll come across is…

The Buddhist Stupa

… A huge terrace facing the Mediterranean, where you’ll feel the salt-laden breeze of the sea. Here stands the Buddhist Stupa, a huge white construction with a golden dome that looks like a spiritual lighthouse guiding ships from the coast. Three poles with Buddhist flags produce a sound like a Nepali mantra. Inside, the stupa has lots of lively wall paintings. You can feel the peace in its 100-square-metre meditation room. On the whole, it’s a curious building for the Mare Nostrum. In the lower part of the temple there’s an exhibition of Buddhism and the spiritual life it entails (admission fee: €2). I took in as much energy as I could, skirting the stupa clockwise so that my wishes came true. Then, I pursued more worldly affairs.

Towards Benalmádena Pueblo and the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art

Back in the car, I followed the signs, which are visible and clear (you can’t get lost). In about 2’ I reached the urban area. Where to park? Benalmádena Pueblo can be covered on foot, so the best thing to do is find the free public parking zone opposite the Town Hall (just after the double traffic lights; follow the signs). It’s perfectly located and huge, so there’ll sure be space for everyone. A flight of steps takes you to the main street, Juan Peralta Avenue. Walk to the left, to the town centre. You’ll start feeling the essence of traditional Andalusia in Benalmádena Pueblo: narrow streets peppered with colourful flowers, iron-wrought windows, whitewashed walls. And soon enough you’ll bump into the Felipe Orlando Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (admission: free). The museum is excellent, combining modern architecture with ancient pieces on display. There’re fine examples of delicate Pre-Columbian art from México, Peru, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Ecuador: vessels, small sculptures, toiletries, and musical instruments like whistles and ocarinas. All in all, a fascinating tour of the Americas before Columbus brought to Benalmádena by Felipe Orlando García-Murciano, a Mexican citizen who chose to live here and bequeathed his house and private collection for everyone to see. It’s worth coming. In addition, the underground floor shows archaeological remains found in Benalmádena, mapping out the history of the municipality. And on top of all this, you’ll be given maps of both Benalmádena Pueblo and Benalmádena Costa, which will be very useful for the rest of your trip. Back to Juan Peralta Avenue and from here to Real Street, following the directions given by the museum’s staff.

The Streets, La Niña, La Fonda: Everything at Hand’s Reach

Real is a cobblestone street flanked by low houses, whitewashed walls, and iron-wrought grilles. It invites you to take a stroll far from the madding crowd and away from routine at home. Benalmádena’s historic district is a real maze of streets where you can let yourself be swept along. If you get off Real Street – Plaza España – Santo Domingo Street – Plaza de Santo Domingo route you’ll find locals doing their everyday errands, leading their everyday lives: the smells of the early meals, the clothes hanging in patios, people looking out of windows. It’ll make you feel fine. Back on track: on 2 Real Street, you’ll find a newsstand where you can buy stamps (€0.32 Spanish postage) and postcards (€0.25), and there’s a letter box a few metres away where you can drop your letters. At the street fork, walk ahead, leaving Álamos Street to the left. You’ll come to Plaza España to see one of the symbols of town: La Niña de Benalmádena (The Girl of Benalmádena): a bronze sculpture in a fountain. On Santo Domingo Street, there stands the building of La Fonda, which was rehabilitated by César Manrique, the famous architect from the Canary Islands. This building is home to the Benalmádena Catering School, serving good menus from Monday to Friday. Behind the façade designed by Manrique, there’s a patio bubbling over with flowers and a dining room on a terrace affording stunning views of the sea.

Plaza de Santo Domingo de Guzmán

This is one of the most beautiful places on your trip: Plaza de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, commanding great panoramic views of the Costa del Sol. Embraced by the sea breeze and amidst palm trees, the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán stands on this mound. The picture seems to have been taken from colonial Cuba. The Church is surrounded by Jardines del Muro (the Wall Gardens), whose steps and balconies –full of trees and shadows, flower perfumes and birds’ trills– are the perfect setting to sit down and read or write your postcards. Peace and quiet all around. These Gardens were also designed by César Manrique. In them you can feel the imminence of the sea in the fragrance of pine trees. There’re binoculars you can use for €1 if you want broader views of the coast. Our next site is also in sight: the Colomares Castle.

The Colomares Castle
Walking down El Chorrillo Avenue from Plaza de Santo Domingo, a free elevator takes you to Castillo de Colomares (Colomares Castle). If you prefer to walk, it’ll take you some 20’ to get there. I drove, for I still had a lot of things to see. I retraced my steps back to Santo Domingo Street, stopping by the letter box in the square to mail the postcards I’d written. My car was 5’ away. Everything is a pebble’s throw in Benalmádena Pueblo. After getting to Juan Peralta Avenue, I turned left and went down El Chorrillo Avenue to Castillo de Colomares. The site features a dirt parking area. The sea is always there, always visible. The Castle itself (admission fee: €2) is a mystery, as if it had been taken out of one of Gaudí’s nightmares. Different from everything around it, it has the kitsch charm of those eyesores that are both pleasant and disgusting to look at. Twisting spires reaching for the sky and a tribute to the Discovery of America, my guidebook reads. Caravel-shaped terraces, balconies resembling figureheads, baroque doors. Surrealist, weird, and grotesque. There’s no accounting for taste.

Arroyo de la Miel, Tivoli World, and the Cable Railway

Driving back along the road you used, you have to go up to Benalmádena Pueblo and follow the signs leading to Arroyo de la Miel. The Bullring lies to the left, but you’ll need to drive ahead. The sites are clearly signposted, but you can always use the railway cables as your guide. In the centre, you’ll see the ads of both Tivoli World and the Cable Railway. Men wearing reflective orange waistcoats will tell you where to park (for free). Tivoli is synonymous with fond memories of childhood on the Costa del Sol. You just have to hum the first stanza from the 1980s ad and it’ll all come back: “Pa-pa-pararara-ra pará.... Tívoli... junto al mar en la Costa del Sol, allí te espera Tívoli....” (“By the sea on the Costa del Sol, Tivoli is waiting for you”). Built in 1973, Tivoli was the first funfair in the area. There’re shows, rides, theatres, a roller-coaster, restaurants, a zillion things to do. Admission fee without rides: €6. If you’re less than 1m tall, it’s free! There’s a metre at the entrance to check. Tivoli is the most important family attraction in Benalmádena. It’s one of the icons of Arroyo de la Miel and Benalmádena Costa. Alongside Selwo Marina and Sea Life, it’s a great leisure centre for kids. Facing the unmistakable entrance, you’ll see one of the most enjoyable things you’ll do in the morning: the Cable Railway taking you to the peak of Calamorro. I wanted to take the ride and take in the impressive landscape from the top, as well as visit the birds of prey centre, watch the falconry show at 1:00 p.m., and take a look at the astronomic observation area in the evening. I saw the cable railway in the air, slightly shaken by the morning breeze, which has turned into gusts. One of the boards reads: “Horario: Apertura, 10:00. Cierre: 19:00. Exhibición de rapaces, 13:00. Todos los horarios están sujetos a las condiciones meteorológicas.” (Hours: 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Birds of prey show: 1:00 p.m. Hours are subject to suitable weather conditions.) I feared the worst. The guy at the ticket box said the last couple have just taken off and the cable railway would close because of the strong winds (Alas! Strong they are!). “And what about the afternoon?,” I asked. “It all depends on the wind,” he replied. A change of plan, then: lunch and back here, to see if the rides were on in the afternoon.

Lunch at Los Mellizos

Los Mellizos is a gastronomic emporium built out of a humble fishmonger’s. With time, the shop turned into a wholesaler and then a restaurant serving meals to customers waiting their turn in the fish market. From fishmonger’s to wholesale fish market and four seafood restaurants in the blink of an eye. I chose the closest one, off the beaten path, in the Industrial Estate, near the open area outside Tivoli. Back, to the left, and then ask for directions –everyone knows where it is. Why “Los Mellizos”? Word-of-mouth always works well with restaurants. This one’s big, with meals being cooked in open kitchens behind a shiny bright red counter. A legion of waiters (I could see eleven all at once) serve guests. It’s 1:30 p.m. In an hour, this place will burst with patrons. An impressive menu whose ingredients you can see right on the counter: large red prawns, assorted fritters, salads, rice, salted fish, soft shells, clams, whelk, shellfish barbecue for two… I was surrounded by temptation. Finally, I ordered a sort of mix menu with a little bit of everything: Málaga salad = €5.80; boiled prawns = €14.80; Málaga fritters (“Better order it for one,” the waiter says, and he’s right, since we get red mullet, squid, hake, anchovy, and marinade) = €13.40; three beers = €5.40; a soda = €1.70; two bottles of water = €2.80; a black coffee = €1.50. Not too cheap, but not expensive either: the servings are generous and the fish is impossibly fresh. The scene reminds of the Salvo Montalbano, the likable detective character created by Andrea Camilleri, who enjoys eating –and eating fish– as if it were the only important thing on earth. A lavish, luxurious meal. Back to the Cable Railway. Not working, the cars rocking in the wind. Closed. I’ll try later, if I have time.

Parque de la Paloma and Selwo Marina

From here, you need to go to Parque de la Paloma, which is clearly signposted and easily found, opposite Selwo Marina. If you follow the directions, you won’t get lost. From Plaza del Tivoli, drive down Tivoli Street, cross Avenida de la Estación, and then down Béjar Avenue. When you get to Boulevard Street, park your car opposite the Auditorium (there’ll be spaces available). You’ll be facing the Parque de la Paloma Auditorium, the entrance to Selwo Marina lying to the right. The perfect leisure match for a great evening. Selwo Marina boasts the first ice penguin pen in Andalusia. On the website you can check hours, admission fees, and special discounts (adults: €17; children aged 3 to 7 and senior citizens: €13). Besides penguins, in Selwo Marina, you can watch dolphin and sea lion shows, and lots of animals from South America. Facing Selwo Marina, there’s Parque de la Paloma, the so-called “lung of the Costa del Sol.” It’s huge, spanning mild rolling hills, and including lots of benches in the shadow or lie down in the shelter of the gardens. It’s the ideal place for a nap, a family rest –there are two playgrounds–, or just a short break before moving on. Attractions at the park include a cactus garden (as if brought from the Far West), the Auditorium, a modern town library, an man-made lake, and two animal zones (goats, ostriches, etc.). A curious fact about this park: hens and cocks, swans and turtles, and perhaps some other animals can be found wandering about. They’re not afraid of visitors, who should take the warning into account: “Please do not feed animals.” From the rolling hills you can make out the glimmer sea, with its alluring murmur. That is your next stop. But take your time at the park, lying on the grass –especially with kids. Admission to the park is free, since it’s a ublic place. Summer hours: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. In winter: 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Summer nights must be glorious here.

Afternoon Plan: Benalmádena Costa and the Sea

From Parque de La Paloma, go down Rocío Jurado Avenue. Before reaching the beach, you’ll find some parking space (not in the high season, of course). Leave your car their and walk to Antonio Machado Street, the main artery adjacent to the Sea Promenade. The Mediterranean Sea looks brave, green, rocking. Foam lambs crown the waves, drawing foamy white lines in the sea. My plan –and yours: visiting the Bil-Bil Castle, strolling along Santa Ana and Malapesquera beaches, and reaching Puerto Marina on the West Dock –one of the best yachting clubs in the world and the second largest and most populous in the Mediterranean.

Bil-Bil Castle and a Stroll by the Sea

Bright red in colour, the Castillo de Bil-Bil (Bil-Bil Castle) stands in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky, its murmuring fountains playing counterpoint with the sea. It’s a modern, twentieth-century building, but it looks Nasrid in essence. Looking at it, it’s not hard to imagine an Arab village standing there some 700 years ago. The Bil-Bil Castle is a cultural centre holding exhibitions, lectures, and other events. Inside its plasterwork perfectly white. Looking from the window, I could sea a table, a microphone, some chairs. Quite an elegant setting. Bil-Bil is the place with the highest number of weddings held in Málaga. Which is only natural if you think of both the beautiful building and its stunning setting. You can spot your final destination from here: In the background, behind the last bend of Playa de Malapesquera (Malapesquera Beach), there’s Puerto Marina. In front, an enchanting Sea Promenade featuring lots of seaside bars and restaurants: fish, paella, skewered sardines, the full range of fish and seafood at… let’s say… reasonable prices. A nice stroll. People walking by, boisterous children, a bicycle or twoOn Playa de Santa Ana (Santa Ana Beach), late beach goers rush to catch the last afternoon waves. Young people enjoy themselves, and it shows. In some stretches, the Promenade has beautiful –funny or even delicate– tiles. After a 30’ walk you’ll get to one of the several watchtowers punctuating the Mediterranean coastline: Torrebermeja. It’s also the gateway to the West Dock and Puerto Marina.

Puerto Marina
Puerto Marina looks like a modern Venice. Part of the piers are in the port itself, so that users can access their boats right from the inside, from the homes. There are deep-red bridges here and there linking different areas within the marina. Down from the houses, there’s a rich array of restaurants, ice-cream parlours, and shops. People stroll by and watch the yachts while licking an ice-cream. Indeed, Puerto Marina’s leisure menu is one of the best on the Costa del Sol. To the east you’ll find fast-food restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs. In the evening, this area becomes one of Málaga’s hot hubs, catering for the wide range of needs and interests. It never stops. You can hire boat or catamaran rides during the day (60’ = €10 or 120’ = €20). Rides including native animal watching are also available. They’re a little bit more expensive but still affordable. Going around Puerto Marina is like going around half the world, since tourists from different countries meet here. There’s a paid parking area in the marina, but it’s likely to be pretty crowded in the summer. Next to the harbourmaster’s office, you’ll find a docked boat. It’s the Willow, a copy of the steamboats you can read about in Mark Twain’s stories which sailed through the Mississippi River. There’re ferryboats to Fuengirola too (round trip: €13 adults; €8 children). There’re so many things to do that I found it overwhelmingly difficult to make my choice. After sunset, I walked back to the Sea Promenade to get my car. I took a look at the Calamorro. The cable railway wasn’t moving. ‘Maybe next time,’ I thought. It can always be an excuse to come back again. Where Malapesquera and Santa Ana Beaches come together, I had an ice-cream: hazelnut and cream / nougat and cream (two balls = €4). I took my time and savoured it, watching the sun go down and burn the red walls of the Bil-Bil Castle and smelling the sea, the sand, the salt. And my ice-cream, of course.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Family holidays: Benalmádena Costa is a great place for kids, with many special attractions for them Tivoli World, Selwo Marina and Sea Life are the main amusement parks. Parque de la Paloma is a resource to be in contact with nature in the heart of the concrete jungle. Depending on your children’s ages and interests, check season activities in advance.
Where to eat: I chose Los Mellizos on somebody’s advice, but the town has a lot to offer in terms of international cuisine. You can find pizza houses, hamburger bars, Italian or Chinese restaurants, and so on near most attractions. Likewise, traditional dishes based on charcoal-grilled fish, fried fish or paella can be ordered almost everywhere.
Going to the beach: There’re fifteen beaches in Benalmádena. They’re all well-equipped city beaches –Playa de Arroyo de la Miel, Playa de Arroyo Hondo, Playa de Bil-Bil, Playa de Carvajal, Playa de Fuente de la Salud, Playa de la Perla or la Morera, Playa de la Viborilla, Playa de las Yucas, Playa de Malapesquera, Playa de Santa Ana, Playa de Tajo de la Soga, Playa de Torrebermeja, Playa de Torremuelle, Playa de Torrequebrada, Playa de Torrevigía.
What to see: Benalmádena Pueblo is a very quiet place commanding amazing views of the Costa del Sol. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art is just delightful. A real must-see. You can walk from Parque de la Paloma to Puerto Marina –a long, straight 60’ walk.
Useful links: The website of the Benalmádena Town Hall contains a lot of useful information, including links to sites of interest and websites and a multimedia gallery. The Costa del Sol Tourist Board website is another valuable source of information on Benalmádena.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Istán. I close my eyes and listen. Everything around me is water murmur. Istán: a town sheltered by the sierras, washed by rivers, refreshed by springs. Istán: a town where green is in stark contrast to streets and walls’ white. Istán: a village whose people are warm and kind. Istán: a place where food is hearty, right down from the mountains. Istán: a town rebellious in history. Istán: a village facing the Mediterranean Sea. Istán: a place whose name means “the highest one.”

Toward Istán

From the crowded city of Marbella, a bend-plagued road climbs up the sierras, sound and full of cyclists. The Verde river flows along and the Concepción reservoir sits to the west. As the road goes up, the mountains of Sierra Blanca and Sierra de las Nieves become prominent. A huge green mass with rocky crests where you can spot a bird of prey or two. The wood is carpeted with yellow rockroses and spiny brooms (erguenes in Spanish) and you come across the first orange and tangerine trees. The mountains are peppered with houses here and there. Many of them overlook the reservoir, the Rock of Gibraltar, Ceuta, and even Africa, behind the misty horizon.

The Chapel of San Miguel

About 2km (1.2mi) from the town centre, you can visit the Chapel of San Miguel, Istan’s patron saint. A forest trail begins at the parking area, winding among trees that smell delicious. The trail is wide and easily passable. The Chapel, 30m (98ft) away, is carved into the rock and protected by an iron-wrought and glass gate. Its small balcony affords great views of the Mediterranean Sea in the background, and the granite mass of the Sierra Blanca to the left. Inside, a winged St Michael hunts after the badly wounded devil (horns included). Near the Chapel there’s a picnic area featuring tables, benches, and barbecues. With a little peasant bread and cold meats, you’ll have everything you need for breakfast, dreaming of African scenes. Istán is only two bends (5’ drive) away. From the Chapel, you can also walk along the PR-A 138 country road, and you’ll be in town in 30’.

Parking in Istán, Plaza del Calvario, Decision Making

The town entrance is a winding road. Follow the first Public Parking sign and don’t drive ahead: the town centre is a real street maze and it’s too narrow for cars; moreover, there’re street markets on Saturdays. Following the directions, you’ll get to Plaza del Calvario or Plaza de la Esfera, where usually there’s parking space. The best way of getting around Istán is on foot. Standing on the square, you can see one of the township’s main features: ravines and terraces coming down a rugged mountain, where farmers grow their crops and plant their fruit trees. The sierras surround Istán in a sheltering embrace. Walking down El Calvario Street, you’ll get to the town centre. There’re many tourist signs and instructions in Spanish and in English helping you plan your trip. The boards suggest three different tours: Casco Histórico (Historic District), Paseo de los Miradores (Lookouts), and Paso del Nacimiento (Birth). My choice: combining number one and number two, leaving number three for the afternoon.

The Fountain of El Chorro

Istán is a small, secluded village featuring narrow winding roads and whitewashed walls, where you can listen to the birds in spring and the murmur of water running along the Moorish ditches all year round. The first landmark you’ll see when walking down El Calvario Street is El Chorro, a sort of tribute to the water that washes every corner in town. This fountain sporting seven spouts and blue and white tiles on its walls dominates the small square. To the left, a series of porticoed washing sites where women used to wash their families’ clothes. The seven-spout fountain bears the marks of the ceramic jugs used in it for hundreds of years. Take a sip. Quite refreshing! All the fountains in Istán carry drinking water –crystal-clear, pure, fresh.

The Main Square and its Church

From El Chorro, you’ll easily get to Plaza de San Miguel, Istán’s nerve centre. This square is brimming with playing children and men doing straw crafts. One of the square’s walls is the side of the Church of San Miguel, built in 1505 and renovated three times (the latest renovation took place in 1960). Although one of the church’s door opens into the plaza, the main entrance lies on a side street to the left. It’s a simple one-nave building featuring a wooden coffered ceiling. It’s quiet and cool inside. There are images of St Michael, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Remedies, Our Lady of Pains, St Anthony, Our Lady of El Carmen, the Resurrection, and St Joseph. Back in the square, take San Miguel Street to the north. You’ll get to Mirador del Peñón. You’ll probably feel the smell of casseroles, stews, and “puchero malagueño” (Málaga-style stew), announcing the intensity of traditional flavours. The street maze is constantly interrupted by flowers, multi-coloured paths, and fountains to cool down.

Torre Escalante

On San Miguel Street, 10m (33ft) after the post office to the left, you’ll find the access to Torre de Escalante (Escalante Tower), in the highest part of the town centre. The tower is in the far end of a carefully decorated square –the perfect place to take a break, sit down, and listen to the relaxing murmur of water. What remains of the old watchtower is the entrance and part of the interior, standing on a cobblestone patio that is spick and span. The Escalante Tower used to protect locals and ward off enemy attacks. It was also used as a watchtower by the inhabitants of Marbella. It’s a nice place indeed. I spent some time there, sitting on the iron-wrought bench right of the entrance, just around the corner. Istán is a charming village, where you feel at home as soon as you set foot in it.

Mirador del Peñón

One of the best things you can do in Istán is strolling up and down the streets, in a labyrinth where voices and the sound of water get intertwined. Walk on down San Miguel Street. When it changes its name to Nueva Street, look for the stone steps and wooden rail climbing down through Rincón de Picasso to Peñón Street. Locals (called “Panochos” rather than “Isteños” or “Istenses”) are extremely kind. They’ll help you out in case you get lost, giving you lots of useful directions. The term “Panochos” was given to the people living in Istán after the Moorish rebellion in 1569, when the town was resettled by families coming from Murcia and speaking a dialect that bore the same name. After climbing down these intricate stairway, walk to the left to reach Mirador del Peñón. You’ll see a plate reading a poem by Carlos A. Padilla: “...el sol se quedó contigo / como un morisco rezagado. / Enamorado de Istán... / Aquí estás Istán / estallando de blanco entre los verdes. / Blanco aljibe de la Costa del Sol / ¡Tú el más alto! / ... San Miguel espada en alto / vigila tu blancura y el encanto de tus aguas”. (The sun stayed with you / like a Moor lagging behind. / In love with Istán… / There you are, Istán / Bursting with white amidst green hills. / The white well of the Costa del Sol / You, the highest one / … San Miguel brandishes his sword / protecting your whiteness and your charming water.) The lookout affords broad views of the Verde valley, peppered with orange trees, in the shadow of Sierra de las Nieves.

Mirador del Tajo Banderas and Las Herrizas

Monda Street will take you to the cemetery. Following the clear and visible signs, you’ll get to Mirador del Tajo Banderas (Tajo Banderas Lookout) and Las Herrizas (lookout and drive). Both lookouts are very close to one another but far from the city centre. However, the ride is worth it: a nice trail flanked by gardens. To the right, among mimosas and orange trees, you’ll hear and see the Verde river. Tajo Banderas is your first panoramic stop. You’ll feel the first hints of the Concepción reservoir, supplying the western Costa del Sol with water. This is why the town is called the “well of the Costa del Sol.” Beyond metaphors and similes, that’s quite true. To the left, Istán stands on its mound, a tight block of white-walled houses in the mountains. The lookout has a board where you can read the names of the surrounding peaks. The road to Las Herrizas includes the elements you’ll have become familiar with by now: trees, water soundtrack, herbal smells (lavender and rosemary this time). It’s a cobblestone trail and it’s in perfect condition. At the foot of the lookout, there’s a threefold choice: the second lookout to the left, an open-air sports park to the right, and the peak in front of you. Choose number three. The views from Mirador de las Herrizas (Las Herrizas Lookout) are simply overwhelming. You’ll be able to see the Concepción reservoir almost in full, with the Mediterranean Sea in the background. The reservoir often holds canoes or kayaks, provided by companies like Ticket To Ride (owned by Scandinavian kayak champion Lars Walker) or local firms such as Hotel Altos de Istán. If you’re interested in kayaking, watch this video before coming to Istán: Full Crossing of the Concepción Reservoir. In the upper part, crowned by two olive trees, there’s a stone bench to sit down for a while. You’re a sports guy, you can use the sports park before lunch. And guess what? If you’re thirsty, there’s yet another fountain to quench your thirst. In the far end of the road, great scenery again. To the left of Las Herrizas, a narrow drive takes you to the last lookout, where you’ll find more panoramic views, more peace and quite, more echoes of life. Now back to town.

From Road to Food: Technical Stop

Retracing your steps to the cemetery, leave it behind on the right and take Perales Street back to Plaza de San Miguel. Miguel Hernández wrote some lines for this square; more specifically, for the Cross to the Fallen in the back of the Church: “Tristes guerras / si no es el amor la empresa. / Tristes armas / si no son las palabras. / Tristes hombres / si no mueren de amores” (Sad is war / if it’s not made for love. / Sad are the weapons / if they’re not words. / Sad are men / if they don’t die for love). There’re many bars and restaurants where you can get traditional tapas and small servings –from black pudding or goat to meat with tomato– at affordable prices. Most of them also serve menus of the day or weekend specials. I wanted to try “plato panocho,” a must in the religion of yesterday’s skinners and today’s old farmers. And I found it, but I’ll tell you about it later on. Before that, I entered Bar Los Rojillos near the square for a snack. Los Rojillos is a small venue whose walls are shrines of Communist martyrology: “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro, Marx, and so on. Two glasses of beer (“cañas”) = €2. You could also have steaks, meat balls, or chops, but I wanted my “plato panocho,” so I decided to wait.

Stop and Lunch: “Plato Panocho,” Goat Stew, Stuffed Aubergines

I chose El Barón for lunch, a restaurant recommended by good friendsd of mine, so as to run no risks. recomendado por buenos amigos y sin riesgo a equivocarnos. Since I’d had no expenses from museums or other activities, I wanted to have a good sierras-style meal. Dioni gives me advice. Excellent homemade food, including the town’s specialty. The “plato panocho” is a combination of eggs, potatoes, green peppers, sirloin, sausage, and meatballs. Simple and popular and delicious. I also tried a delicate goat stew –another country dish. Last but not least, stuffed aubergines made from Dioni’s grandmother’s recipe with minced meet and processed cheese. It’s the star dish on the menu. Tourists call to order it, and the restaurant’s owner says there’re “aubergines” all year round. Magnificent. Prices? Reasonable. Stuffed aubergines = €10.50. Goat stew = €11. “Plato panocho” = €9.75. Three beers = €3. A bottle of water = €1.5. Two coffess = €2. Bill total = €38.65. Now we have two possibilities: taking a nap or taking a walk and visiting the last two sites. Second option. On the move. Let’s go.

The Moorish Ditches

Up El Calvario Street, you’ll find the place where you’d parked your car. There’s 1km (0.62mi) from here to the river mouth, the final stop in our trip. It’s rather steep, but it can be done on foot. It’s impossible to get lost here: the road is clearly signposted; besides, it’s the only climbing trail beginning in the square. You can visit El Coto Recreational Area along the way, where you’ll find the Moorish ditches. El Coto is ideal for a walk after lunch. It skirts the Moorish Ditches, which feed all the fountains in Istán when they get to the heart of town. The cobblestones and the smell of jasmines will invite you to admire the Arabs for their engineering ingenuity. There’re many corners to take a seat. Of course, the murmur of water is ceaseless here. Stroll down to the road that’ll take you to the mouth of the river.

River Source and Farewell

It’s a small river park rather than a source. The Molinos river is fast flowing all year round. You can follow it to its very source, dipping your hands in it and finding pleasure in its refreshing water. The murmur of the spring bursting towards the river mouth is soothing. Close to the mouth, there’s another picnic area with tables and benches. Here you’ll bid farewell to Istán, still feeling the flower smells of its streets and the crystal sound of its fountains.
Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to see (tourist attractions): 1. “El Paso” in Istán. During Holy Week, there’re lively celebrations in Istán. Locals re-enact Jesus’ last day on earth in a fiesta that has been designated of National Tourist Interest in Andalusia. 2. The Food Fair. In March, three culinary events coincide in Istán. They’re the Tapas Tour, the Orange Day, and the Food Fair, which has been held for fifteen years. During the fair, the Main Square gathers a rich array of typical dishes prepared by “Panochos,” as well as tapas served by bars and restaurants at special prices. It’s worthwhile, mind my words.
What to see (nature spot): El Castaño Santo (The Holy Chestnut Tree). 37km (23mi) from the town centre, there’s the so-called “Grandfather of Sierra de las Nieves.” It’s an 800-to-1,000-year-old chestnut tree whose trunk’s perimeter 13m (43ft). You can access it on a bike (but you need to be an experienced rider) or by car, using a forest trail with some complicated stretches. The tree is worth seeing. Legend has it that Ferdinand II of Aragon attended Mass in its shadow in 1501.
General links: The Istán Town Hall website gives full information on the town: sites, fiestas, food, and nature spots. You can download your street map here. The Costa del Sol Tourist Board website is also a good source of information.
Remarkable feature: Locals are warm and kind. They truly welcome visitors and offer help if you need them to.
Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Ronda: “profunda y honda” (deep and profound), according to the popular saying, or “the town of your dreams,” in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke. Ronda: the old town full of monuments that dazzled Hemingway, Orson Welles, and many others. Ronda: the city of bullfighting and glitz that is a must-attend in Málaga. Ronda: leaning onto the gorge that tears it apart leaving an indelible scar. Ronda: a cold town in the sierras, home to bandits, hunters, artists. Ronda: a city whose streets and winding alleys hide lots of historical secrets. Ronda: a town to walk around.

A Hearty Breakfast

Our journey begins along the winding road that links Ronda with San Pedro Alcántara. Lots of bends, feels like heaven for motorbikers, lots of traffic… Let’s slow down, let’s not fret about the crowd, let’s take in the landscape –mountains and peaks, limestone and karst. About 1km (0.62mi) before getting to our destination, we can stop at Venta La Parrilla, the Mecca of breakfasts. As a matter of fact, we’ll need a hearty breakfast, sierra-style, to enjoy the city. (A full belly is one of the keys to a trip’s success.) All manners of toast buttered with “manteca colorá” (red butter) or white butter, with “zurrapa de lomo“ (loin dregs), chorizo, spiced sausage, pâté, or oil and garlic. Not apt for veggies or sensitive stomachs. You can eat as much as you want, taking everything from a central table. Breakfast for two (coffee and toast with white butter and loin dregs): €4.50. Let’s move on.

Parking in Ronda - Calle de la Bola

The gorge-divided city features a high number of clearly signposted, affordable public parking places, but you can also park on the street. In the lower part of town and the district of San Francisco there’re fewer cars but also fewer parking spaces. Bear in mind that, after leaving your car here, you’ll need to climb a steep hill before reaching the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) area in the centre of town. You can also park in the area of Espinel Street, also known as Calle de La Bola. There’re more cars here, traffic is heavier, but you can still find a place to park quite easily. After giving the first choice a try, I decided to take the second one. I left my car on Calvo Asensio Street and accessed Carrera Espinel on foot. This street has been known as “Calle de la Bola” “since time immemorial.” It’s a crowded place with a nice ambience, full of stores selling everything from gifts and souvenirs to hardware, odd gadgets, and toys. About toys: El Pensamiento is the right place for those who refuse to leave childhood behind. It sells curiosities and handmade toys. If you need a break, go to Plaza del Socorro (outside the Church of El Socorro) and sit down, find your way around, plan your tour. Walking down “La Bola,” you’ll come to the Bullring and one of Ronda’s Tourist Offices.

The Tourist Office and the Tourist Card

At Ronda’s Tourist Offices you can get two different types of Tourist Cards for the town’s sights, centres, and museums. The cheaper one is €8 and means saving €6 compared to buying separate tickets. It gives admission to the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) Visitor Centre, the Casa del Gigante (Giant’s House), Palacio de Mondragón (Palace of Mondragón), the Baños Árabes (Arab Baths), and the Museo de Pintura de Joaquín Peinado (Painting Museum). The more expensive one is €14 and means a €10 discount. If you get this card, you can visit all the places mentioned above plus the Museo del Vino (Wine Museum), the Museo del Bandolero (Bandit Museum), and the Lara Museum. I chose the €8 card, since neither of them included the Bullring (€6) or the Mine (€4). Be careful with opening hours. On Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, municipal museums and centres close as early as 3:00 p.m.! At the Tourist Office you can also find postcards, stamps, and letter boxes, in case you want to tell your family and friends how you’re doing. Be sure you keep your Tourist Card safe. They’re similar to Credibus and can get lost among maps, brochures, leaflets, the wallet, the camera… Now you’re ready to go: Ronda at your feet. The morning tour includes the New Bridge, the Palace of Mondragón, the Peinado Museum, the Giant’s House, and the Arab Baths. If you’re in town by 10:00 a.m., you’ll be able to visit the five of them before 3:00 p.m. No need to hurry.

The Impressive Puente Nuevo

Looking into the Gorge (“Tajo” in Spanish), some 30m (98.4ft) from the Tourist Office, makes you feel dizzy. It’s like looking into the abyss. A city split into two. Deep down, you can see the greenish water of the Guadalevín river, from an altitude of 100m (328ft). To the north, Ronda’s sierras. To the south, the multiple terraces of the Cuenca Gardens. How can you get the best panoramic view of the New Bridge? Read below. Now let’s use your Tourist Card. Climb down the stairs taking you to the heart of the New Bridge, which took twenty-nine years to build and was finally completed in 1793. There used to be a jail in its central area; now there’s a Visitor Centre, where you can learn about the bridge’s construction and reconstruction, the problems to connect both halves of Ronda, and the architectural structure used by Martín de Aldehuela to overcome the difference in floor level created by the Tajo (Gorge). The tour is highly educational, but the best thing is being there, knowing you’re in the heart of the town itself, inside an architectural masterpiece. You won’t stop taking photos: north, south, lots of curious details, deep into the Gorge…

The Palace of Mondragón and, Before, Puerta de los Molinos

Our second stop is the Palace of Mondragón, on the other side of the Gorge, in the older part of town, also known as La Ciudad (The City). You’ll get here after a 10’ walk. After crossing the New Bridge, take the first street, Tenorio, right. The Palace is at the far end. 10m (32.8ft) before coming across the Mondragón, you’ll pass by Plaza de María Auxiliadora, where you can take some beautiful pictures of the sierras. A dirt and stone trail (in very good condition) zigzags 80m (262.5ft) down through the Mill Door, taking you to a small terrace where you can view the New Bridge rising above the Gorge. It’ll take you 10’ to go down, and a little longer (15’-20’) to climb back up. But it’s worth it. However, you’re advised to spare this side trip if you’re coming with children or seniors, since it can take too long and there’s still a long way to go. From Plaza de María Auxiliadora it’s just a pebble’s throw to the Palace of Mondragón. Inside, the Palace holds the Museo de Ronda (Museum of the City), an ethnographic tour of Ronda’s history and landscape and a full illustrated map of the sierras, from the Neolithic Age (there’re huts recreated from this period) to Iberian and Roman times. The Palace’s patios are remarkable. In one of them, the red arcade stands in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky. One of the doors leads to the Chefchauen Gardens, which make a row of balconies overlooking the Gorge’s mouth. This place is ideal to take a break, wrapped by the alluring smell of jasmines and sheltered from winds. Turn up your jacket’s collar; it can be cold in the gardens.

Museo Peinado: One or Ronda’s Best Kept Secrets

Not far from the Palace of Mondragón (100m/ 328ft, 5’ walk along Ruedo de Gameros Street), there’s one of Ronda’s best kept secrets: Museo Peinado (Peinado Museum). It’s discreet yet elegant, and features one of the largest collections of the paintings by Joaquín Peinado, a friend and disciple of Picasso’s and an heir to Cezanne. Its rooms are large, delicate, and impossibly white. There’s also a video room placing Peinado’s work in its historical and artistic context. The tour of his work suggested at the museum is amazing: still lifes, watercolour landscapes, fake advertising posters, female body sketches, and daring erotic drawings depicting sex scenes. The building has a fine restored chapel in red and white, rising almost 10m (32.8ft), which holds the main collection, and Mozarabic coffered ceilings in some of the rooms (almost certainly made with red pine wood). The access to the patio –which, like many others in Ronda, is protected by high walls– is dominated by a picture of Peinado and Picasso during a break in their work. Take your time to visit this museum, which is to be the Palacio de Moctezuma (Palace of Moctezuma). Both the works and the building are worth seeing. But remember: all municipal buildings close at 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

Casa del Gigante

Opposite the Peinado Museum, across Plaza de San Juan Bosco or Plaza del Gigante, there’s the Casa del Gigante (Giant’s House). In a quick tour of the house you’ll get a glimpse of its best features: the inner yard and the walls featuring Nasrid traces like plasterwork and flower motifs. During the house’s rehabilitation, metaphysical inscriptions have been added: “If from dust (earth) we come, then the Earth is my country. And all the worlds are part of my family.” The successive works done to the house have spoiled it; in an attempt to keep the magic, they have stripped it of its significance.

Heading for the Arab Baths

Getting out of the Giant’s House to the right, across San Juan de Letrán Street, you’ll get to one of Ronda’s main streets, Armiñán, where most museums are located. Walking down Armiñán you’ll get to Plaza de Abul Beka, where you can get a glimpse of the Minaret of San Sebastián, and old tower that was part of the Ronda Mosque. It’s quite easy to imagine how the muezzin called the moors in the lower part of town to pray from there. Continue your stroll along Armiñán Street and turn on the alley leading to the Hunting Museum, which goes down to the last walled area in Ronda –an impressive wall that used to protect the city from foreign invaders, which now reminds us of swords and screams. Through the Puerta de Cijara (Archway of Cijara) you’ll be able to see the Arab Baths. Go to the lower part of town. (You’ll climb back up later.) From the outside, the Baths won’t catch your eye: a building carved out of the earth with a series of arches supporting three vaults. But inside the views are quite different. These are the genuine Arab Baths or Hammam, a water and natural light miracle. One of the rooms shows a well-documented video where you can learn about the cold-, warm- and hot-water rooms, and the hydraulic system used by Muslims to keep the steam stable in all rooms, even in winter. You can almost hear the murmur of the water being carried from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century. Shadows play a game of their own between the columns thanks to the numerous skylights bringing natural light in. According to travel guides, Ronda’s Arab Baths are the best kept in the Iberian Peninsula. There’s a larger landscaped space that is currently closed. Bath goers must have spent some time in it before and after entering their world of steam and talk.

Uptown: Puente Viejo and Jardines de Cuenca

Walking up on the left of the Church of San Miguel, you’ll get to one of the bridges across the Gorge, the Puente Viejo (Old Bridge), dating back to 1616 and standing close to the Gorge, in a place chosen for its suitability for building. 20m (65.6ft) to the left of the bridge there’s the Archway of Felipe V. Crossing the bridge, you’ll get to the Jardines de Cuenca (Gardens of Cuenca), whose layered terraces afford stunning views of the Casa del Rey Moro (Palace of the Arab King) (which you’ll visit in the afternoon), the glorious Gorge, and the New Bridge (the upper terraces command great panoramic views). Sitting on the stone benches in the shadow of wild olive trees, you can regain strength after the climb and have another look at your maps. The gardens’ balconies show zillions of construction details along the Gorge: stairs leading nowhere, lookouts hanging in the air, dozens of onlookers, bold reporters… It’s a popular yet quiet place. The highest terrace has a door to Los Remedios Street, where there’s one of your key tour stops.

Stop and Lunch: Bar Moreno “El Lechuguita” and Daver

After a busy morning walking up and down Ronda and filling your soul with art, you’ll need to replenish your energy reserves. A good friend of mine had told me to go to El Lechuguita, on Los Remedios Street. It’s not a Michelin-star restaurant, but it’s one of the most typical, popular and inexpensive Andalusian inns in Ronda. With a long history, El Lechuguita oozes the essence of Málaga. Few tourists can be seen around. The menu includes a wide range of tapas and small servings. You’ll have to underline your tapas numbers and wait until the waiters call your name. There’re fifty-seven tapas and nine dishes to choose from. The star tapa is lettuce seasoned with olive oil and vinegar (be careful: it drips!). Ronda’s traditional food is far from oxtail or game casseroles. We were two and took “mijita” (#23), meat balls (#1), “masita moruna” (#20), “lechuguita” (#14), “magreta” (#17), “toast with ham and blue cheese” (#43), “migas” (#22), and “pringá” (#33), washing them down with four glasses of beer (“cañas” in Spanish) and a bottle of water. The bill: eight tapas, four beers, water = €8. Cheap and delicious. It was 4:00 p.m. by then. From the outside, El Lechuguita seems to be closed, but it’s not. An odd detail: take a look at the 1970 wine list on the wall; how much was a bottle of wine then? One of the waiters told us where to get good coffee: at Daver, a bar and patisserie a few steps from El Lechuguita, on 6 Los Remedios Street. It’s another culinary Mecca in Ronda, only sweet. We had apple pie, French toast, coffee and tea for €7.94. Now we were ready for the rest of our tour: the Bullring, the Palace of the Arab King, and the Gorge’s Poplar Grove at dusk.

The Bullring

The Ronda Bullring is stained with bullfighter blood. This could be a sentence from a story by Ernest Hemingway, but it’s true. Ronda’s is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, and its long history pervades its atmosphere from the sombre bull pens to the bright ring. You can take a tour of the whole building: the “tendidos” (sections) protected by columns, the “burladeros” (bullfighter shelters), the bull pens, the stables, the “picadero” (exercise ring), and the stockyards. Most visitors get their pictures taken imitating matadors –“Hey, bull!”–, as tourists can’t believe their eyes. Everything is red and white in the Bullring, an extremely beautiful, well-kept building. The €6 admission fee could sound expensive, but there’s a Museo de la Tauromaquia (Bullfighting Museum) inside, where you can learn about the origins and history of bullfighting, its apogee in the twentieth century, and the new interpretations by modern artists, while looking at bullfighter’s costumes that were once worn by Paquirri or Antonio Ordóñez. Besides the Bullfighting Museum, there’s the Collection of Old Firearms –where curiosity wins over interest in history– and the Royal Garrison. Finally, the gift shop sells every bullfighting memento you can think of: from bullfighter’s hats and capes to aprons with bullfighting motifs. Ronda’s Bullring is the second most visited landmark in Málaga Province, the first one being the Cave of Nerja.

The Casa del Rey Moro and La Mina

Out of the Bullring and across the New Bridge, take the first street left, Santo Domingo. You’ll find the Casa del Rey Moro (Palace of the Arab King) 40m (131.2ft) ahead. The Palace holds the Forastier Gardens and La Mina (The Mine) as well. Two tickets: €8. Entering the Mine, you enter a realm of legends. A narrow door leads to a 60m (197ft) descent made up of 200 uneven steps. The cave, carved into the rock of the Gorge, connects the town to the bed of the Guadalevín river, courtesy of the architectural ingenuity of the Arabs. The Mine is a strange and rather creepy place, somewhat like a prison rather than a water mine (which is what is actually was). Dark, damp, leaking… You’d better watch your step and clutch the iron rail (which isn’t very reliable either). With poor artificial lighting and dim rays of sunlight coming through the embrasures, the Mine takes you back to the times of Christian prisoners and beautiful princesses. Although the visit is far from a comfortable experience, being on the river bed, feeling the burden or the Gorge on your shoulders, is quite overwhelming. Moreover, you can hear the sound of wind blowing through, like a furious storm. After the excitement, you’ll have to climb up, and it’s wearisome work: too many steps and too uneven. Regain breath in the gardens designed by the French landscape architect Forestier, who’s the author of Seville’s María Luisa Park.

Santa María la Mayor Collegiate Church and Town Hall

Walking up Santo Domingo Street, turn left onto Armiñán Street –where you can find as many as four museums: Lara, (Museo de la Caza) Hunting, (Museo del Bandolero) Bandit, and Museo del Vino (Wine)– and head for Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, facing the Ronda Town Hall, the beautiful Santa María la Mayor (admission: €4), and the Shrine of María Auxiliadora, where Santo Dominguito Savio terrifies us with his greeting: “Better die than sin.”

Dusk in the Alameda and Santa Teresa’s Incorrupt Hand

The bells chime in the churches of Ronda announcing dusk. Walk along Armiñán Street back to the New Bridge, have yet another look at the Gorge, cut across the Jardines de Blas Infante and Paseo de Orson Welles, and you’ll reach Alameda del Tajo. Against the natural backdrop of the Serranía de Ronda, take a seat and watch the sun go down behind the mountains. Everything is in peace. When I was there, going over maps and brochures, I realised I’d forgotten something: Santa Teresa’s incorrupt hand! Leaving peace and quiet behind, we rushed to the Church of La Merced, only to find it was closed. The Church is adjacent to the Convent of La Merced, where you can see the saint’s hand and buy delicious confections like handmade egg-based sweets (“yemas”) or preserves. The Convent’s closing time is 6:45 p.m., so you’d better come here before your dusk ceremony. Back along “Calle de la Bola,” we started looking for the “yemas.” Many patisseries in Ronda sell these traditional confections in small and big boxes (€4-8). We went to our car and drove away from Ronda, “profunda y honda,” the city of our dreams, promising to come back and fill in the blanks of our tour.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: First of all, take some warm clothes, even in the summer. It can get pretty cold in the evening, and the gust from the sierras can bring along cold temperatures. Secondly, wear comfortable, thick-sole shoes. You’ll have to walk a lot in Ronda and there’re many cobblestone streets, so the right kind of shoes can prevent your feet from hurting too much.
What to get: The Tourist Card is a good choice. It’ll help you save and plan your tour. There’re discounts available for students, seniors, and groups too.
Where to eat: El Lechuguita is a typical quaint bar, but if you go for a good meal, you can have regional dishes at good prices, and even special weekend menus for as little as €10. There’re some gourmet and specialty stores as well, near the Bullring or the New Bridge. You can buy sandwiches in them with the best products from the sierras (cheese, ham, game).
Another way of seeing Ronda: You can hire a horse-drawn carriage for a 30’ ride for €25. The driver will tell you everything you need to know. “Good service, warmth, knowledge… Better than a tour guide and cheaper than in Seville.”
General links: The Turismo de Ronda (Ronda Tourist Board) website contains lots of information in Spanish, English, and German. You can find a lot of things about Ronda here, from street maps and Tourist Cards to restaurant and accommodation directories to leisure activities, active travel, etc. The Costa del Sol Tourist Board website includes articles on Ronda’s art and history and gives practical information, including how to get there from almost anywhere else in the province. Other websites you can visit are Ronda Net, Serranía de Ronda, and CIT Serranía de Ronda, or you can listen to the local radio shows of Radio Ronda.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.

My Bright Blue Sky

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

101 townships to discover, 101 townships to visit. Each of them has its own features, history, wounds, food, customs and traditions. But they share the subtle charm of being part of Málaga. Sierras and Mare Nostrum, coast and hinterland, mountains and beaches… Dichotomies that seem to blend in Málaga, a province where everything is there, at hand’s reach. The aroma of skewered fish mixes with the smell of rockroses, the marinated dogfish you eat by the sea fuses with the goat stew in the sierras, warm sand and high mountains come together… All these things coexist under the bright blue sky; hence the name of this blog whose posts I begin writing today: The Bright Blue Sky –a common mirror for 101 townships whose reflections can be seen in it. From my watchtower over the Mediterranean Sea, I’ll set my foreign eyes on the ins and outs of this province, where I’ve been living since December 2006. My homeland is colder and rainier. Maybe this is why I’m still surprised when I wake up in the morning to a Bright Blue Sky. Welcome to my blog. Welcome to this personal journey full of transferable experiences.