My Cordoba

In the 1970’s actor Ricardo Montalban was not only famous for staring in the TV series “Fantasy Island” but also as Chrysler’s celebrity spokesperson for marketing the Cordoba automobile. Who can ever forget his rich voice saying “soft Corinthian leather” when describing the car’s interior? Cordoba was “my car” although I never owned one. I did have high expectations for my explorations of Cordoba, Spain, linked by name although it is uncertain if Chrysler intended it to be so. Huge by today’s standards, in the ’70’s the Cordoba automobile was actually a “junior size” Chrysler! My excursion, however, was not a junior size at all; it was huge as I experienced another aspect of the culturally rich country of Spain.

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Interior of the Grand Mosque

Through the ages Cordoba has been everything from a small Roman outpost to the seat of power during the periods of Muslim occupation. Evidence has been found of humans in the area between 42,000 and 35,000 BC! An interesting fact is that Cordoba is believed to have been the most populous city in the world in the 10th century! Today, Cordoba is a small modern metropolis of about 300,000 and is protective of its Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage. That heritage loudly screams throughout the city, particularly in the area surrounding its famous UNESCO World Heritage Site mezquita (mosque) landmark as well as the Roman Bridge dating from the first century!

The city has witnessed numerous changes through the centuries which were driven by religious-based conflicts involving Christians and Muslims. In 1236 King Ferdinand III secured the city during the Spanish Reconquista. Since then numerous mosques were converted to churches including the huge one where the sanctuary was created in the middle of the existing mosque. The Christian era also brought about a dark period of the Spanish Inquisition with Cordoba at the epicenter. During this period non-Christians were treated as second class citizens with Jews and Muslims often forced to renounce their faith, leave, or die.

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Peaceful Park in Cordoba

Walking through the narrow ancient streets one can celebrate the heritage where today Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace among the past Roman remnants of a beautiful city.

There are numerous parks throughout Cordoba like the one pictured that are quiet where you can pause, reflect and enjoy the simple sounds of water bubbling in the fountain. As in the pictured park, ancient pillars stand reminiscent of Roman times. Other parks are significantly larger and city planners appear to have gone to great lengths to incorporate them among the very wide avenues surrounding the ancient city walls.

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Roman Bridge

Most of my time during my exploration of Cordoba was inside the old city walls and remnants of them. Outdoor cafes are plentiful on the cobblestone streets among ancient buildings created mostly in the last 500 years. I was in awe walking across the preserved Roman Bridge and the cathedral where the bell tower stands among the orange trees and was constructed surrounding the original minaret.

I found the food and drink to be different from other places I have visited in Spain. There was often a blend of creations that reflected the cultures that I mentioned previously. I didn’t care for the local wine and found the famous cold, thick, tomato-based salmocejo soup to not be to my taste either. Regardless, there are plenty of different foods and drinks that more than provided very enjoyable sustenance!

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Cathedral Bell Tower

Just like the Cordoba automobile of my youth, the city of Cordoba in Spain holds a special charm… one which is much longer lasting.

Cordoba is a beautiful modern city surrounding an old city with an outstanding Roman, Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage. It is easy to see why this ancient place is preserved as a World Heritage Site for us and future generations to enjoy.

My Exploration Holiday in Granada, Spain’s Albayzin

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The View of old Albayzin from the Alhambra

Situated below the massive, historic Alhambra in Granada rests the compact, densely populated, ancient district of Albayzin. Inhabited initially by Romans, some say that people have been in the area prior to the 7th century BC. I stayed in Albayzin, a World Heritage Site during my recent exploration of Granada and the Alhambra. My blog about the Alhambra is available by clicking here.

I knew I was in a place quite different in Albayzin when the taxi driver dropped me off at the top of a hill and pointed to narrow, cobblestone steps as the route to take to find the place I had booked. Going through the narrow walkways was like being on a scavenger hunt in a maze looking for the street and door number where the GPS and mobile phone didn’t function.

There is much debate about the origin of the name and spelling of “Albayzin.” It is, however, certain to have a Moor context. The guide at the Alhambra said that the inhabitants are often referred to as “the miserables”… not to be confused with other “miserables” of France. His explanation wasn’t exactly adequate that “people are just miserable there.” I never did find out why.

For this community there is a major influence and feeling reminiscent of the Moors. The buildings are hundreds of years old. The narrow cobblestone “streets” are almost always only wide enough for pedestrians. Going up and down the hills requires that one be sure footed, have a sturdy pair of shoes with excellent soles, and remain focused for ever present steps and the time-worn slippery stones.

At night, the walkways take on an eerie feeling even though they have been brightened by modern street lighting. One can imagine ages past when an unfriendly encounter might be waiting just around a dark building corner.

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There are Numerous Flamenco Shows as Shown in the Poster

The Albayzin is small and exists on a hillside leading downward to the Darro River that runs between it and the hill on which the Alhambra sits. It is one of the oldest centers of Muslim culture in Granada and you can sense the cultural influences not only in the architectures but also in the food found in many modern restaurants where a flamenco show often comes with dinner.

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Lunch at El Trillo

I ate at wonderful reasonably-priced restaurants in the Albayzin. At one particular meal the taste sensations created through expert use of herbs and spices were delightful as pictured… rice with chicken curry, shrimp, asparagus, greens, and slices of oranges. At another restaurant I ate scrambled eggs with potatoes topped with dried Iberian ham and at yet a third I delighted in eating a “fowl stew with raisins and nuts in a light dough.” I have never experienced foods like these.

The architecture in the Albayzin is distinctive where plain wooden doors in the district disappear and are replaced by works of art typical of many European cities as you leave it. The buildings outside the Albayzin take on a traditional Spanish feel and and statues commemorate famous events that have changed our world (click on the photo for a description).

In the Alhambra there are water features everywhere reflecting the Moor past. There are fountains below the Alhambra but they tend to be massive while those developed by the Moors are much smaller in scale and simpler in design.

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A Former Mosque Converted to be a Church

Just like in the Alhambra, each of Albayzin mosques that existed prior to the Christian monarchs’ “Reconquest of Spain” have been converted to Catholic churches like the one pictured. Note the bell tower was erected atop the mosque’s minaret.

On exiting the Albayzin area there are many tourist shops, coffee shops and places where young people hang out. These are mostly nonexistent in the Albayzin.

Overall, Granada with the spectacular Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin provide a rich Moorish past that is ever present even after 500 years following the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the city there is a complimentary blending of the Moor and Spanish cultures which makes Granada really special for me and very enjoyable for every visitor!

Alhambra – My Exploration in Granada, Espana

Towering over the city of Granada sits the spectacular Alhambra, a once great, self contained, red-walled city with palaces, mosques, and homes. With construction by the Moors beginning in the 9th century, the Alhambra (derived from Arabic meaning the “Red One”) overlooks the Albayzin, a World Heritage Site and the oldest part of Granada. The Alhambra has evolved through the centuries from its original Acazaba fortress (the right side of my photo) to be a seat of Iberian ruling power and authority for Muslim sultans and emirs and Spanish Christian kings and queens.

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The Alhambra at Dusk

Today the Alhambra is Granada’s jewel with an average of 10,000 visitors every day. This World Heritage Site has seen numerous notables come and go as well as physical changes over the centuries. In many cases, we can only imagine the Moor’s mosques, schools, houses, baths, gardens, and government buildings. Many structures have disappeared from neglect, war, vandalism, or, as in the case of the mosque, replaced by other buildings such as the Catholic church and another Palace built by Carlos V.

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Column Inscription at Generalife Palace

Following the conclusion of the “Reconquest of Spain” from the Moors in 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand set up a residence at the Alhambra. In the same year Columbus came to the Alhambra to seek financial support for his adventures which was eventually granted as we all know. Napoleon had soldiers quartered within the Alhambra city walls during the Spanish War of Independence. As the troops withdrew in 1812 they blew up several structures thus destroying an important part of the world’s heritage.

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Water Flows Naturally Through Man-made Fountains and Pools in Alhambra and Generalife

The rich Alhambra architecture combines Moorish and Renaissance Spanish with numerous water features and gardens that have been preserved and meticulously restored. The emirs even had their summer palace and rural getaway estate and gardens called “Generalife” which means “Architect’s Garden.” Generalife is adjacent to and outside the Alhambra city walls. It also is a World Heritage Site with its picturesque small park with trees, gardens and several man-made water features on the grounds of a simple-looking palace with many ornate interior wall decorations.

While walking through the grounds I could see how their construction met its objective for providing a calming place for the rulers to relax and unwind from their responsibilities. The park has several very old trees as well as newer plantings which was intended so the park would forever evolve. In the summer vegetables are grown in the Generalife.

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The Throne Room is at the Far End of this Reflective Pool Inside the Alhambra Palace

In addition to Generalife, the nature themes of plants, water features, and gardens are inside the Alhambra also. All of the water flows naturally through a system of small aqueducts that bring fresh water from the nearby mountains. Water features are everywhere and are important to the Muslims. The plants and trees inside the Alhambra are meticulously maintained. Water is always in the center of each building in courtyards except for those built by the Christians.

In 1492 when the Moors surrendered following a siege of the Alhambra, Ferdinand and Isabella moved into the Alhambra as a residence. Where the sultan once held court, the Spanish monarchs then did in the same room.

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The Palace Residence Entrance is Stunning

The entrance into the residential area of the palace is very ornate. The sultan’s palace rooms are jaw-dropping beautiful as are his “first wife’s” rooms. The sultan’s “first wife” is not numerically determined by marriage date but rather the first with whom he has a male heir. A courtyard with an interesting fountain is between the sultan’s suite and the first wife’s suite. The fountain was given to the sultan 700 years ago by a local Jew and represents the tribes of Israel. The tour guide said that in past ages the relationships between Jews and Muslims were much different than today.

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A “First Wife” Room and View

Views of nature are present from each room in the palace. There are numerous walkways through gardens and water features are everywhere. The existing grounds are quite special today and one can imagine what they were like when the Alhambra was a bustling city.

My exploration of the Alhambra was exceptional and there is so much more to see here. Things we learned in school are only a very small part of the exciting (and often sad) history of Spain and the influence that past has for us today. In my blog about the Albayzin district (click here) I describe my exploration of Granada outside of the Alhambra walls where history there also impacts our American way of life.

Here are a few additional photos that I hope you enjoy. The photos are the church built over the Muslim mosque, the ceiling in the sutan’s residence, a walkway through the Generalife retreat, the fountain given to the sultan representing the Tribes of Israel, and the entrance to the Alcazaba fortress.

Tenerife – My Canary Islands Exploration

Through the ages the volcanic Canary Islands grew from the Atlantic Ocean floor off the coast of Western Africa. I have long been fascinated by these islands so last week I gave myself a getaway exploration birthday present for the Thanksgiving holiday… after all, this birthday was the big one!

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Julio Nieto’s fish woman with a basket of fish on her head and in her pail at the harbor is a tribute to Santa Cruz’ fishing industry.

I had several decisions to make about going to Tenerife. The first decision was where to stay… north or south on the island. The island actually has two international airports serving mostly Spanish flights in the older north and mostly other Europeans in the newer south. I wanted more of the traditional flavor so I chose the north and the old town of Santa Cruz where fishing was at one time the predominate trade.

The belief is that Tenerife was initially inhabited by people from Africa about 2500 years ago but nobody is quite certain about where the natives came from. As European exploration accelerated after Columbus’ voyages to America, the Canary Islands became a “jumping off” point for voyages to the New World. In the process, Spain conquered the island’s inhabitants in the 15th century and despite attempts by others, has retained control ever since. No where more than in Santa Cruz can you feel traditional Spanish influence. There are no longer any purely indigenous people on the island.

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Black sand beaches of Candelaria on Tenerife

Except where changed by man, the island landscape has been shaped by volcanic activity. I toured the island which is almost the size of Rhode Island in the USA. The difference between the south and north is striking. The Playa de Las Americas in the south is about 50 years old with construction and things to do characteristic of Northern Europe along with its beach with yellow sand imported from Africa. You feel wealth in the south. In contrast, Santa Cruz has traditional black sand beaches with many lava rocks in the water. The  visitors in the north are notably older than those in the youthful Playa de Las Americas in the south.

In the center of the island is El Teide volcano and the national park. At 3718 meters (12,198 feet) it is the highest point in Spain. Weather conditions didn’t permit going there during my visit. However, an Ultra Marathon did take place which ran from the south of the island to Santa Cruz and went along the volcano rim! The volcano and national park will be a topic for some future adventure to the island.

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Thought to be about 1000 years old this Dragon Tree is the symbol of the Canary Islands

During my tour of the island I ate delicious Canary Island soup with potatoes, chick peas, ham, onions, carrots, and short spaghetti-like pasta. I also went to Icod de los Vinos where I saw the famous Dragon Tree in the Parque del Drago. The tree is thought to be about 1000 years old and is one of the most photographed trees in the world. Legends say that when dragons die they become dragon trees. This one is a symbol of the Canary Islands and has a 20 meter diameter at the base and is 17 meters tall. It is thought to weigh about 150 tons!

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The church at Plaza De La Iglesia in Santa Cruz

The Parque del Drago and the dragon tree is located next to the town church in Icod de los Vinos. The architecture in Santa Cruz and throughout the traditional portions of the island is colorful and beautiful. The church at the Plaza De La Iglesia in Santa Cruz is an example in its simplicity and surrounding gardens and fountains. I found this everywhere I went on Tenerife.

The beautiful, traditional town of Santa Cruz is very much like what you see throughout Europe but with a Spanish flare. There are always numerous shops scattered in with the old town buildings. It was fun to walk through “Old Town” along the waterfront, watch the people, and eat at outdoor cafes. Several of the cafes have Christmas decorations displayed and street vendors are now roasting chestnuts.

The beauty of this land comes from the volcanic history which has given shape to the mountains, provides for lush vegetation, has given birth to a banana industry, and provides stunning scenes along the ocean. The island calls for visitors to come, enjoy, and most of all, return.

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Atlantic Ocean waves crash into volcanic rocks on Tenerife Island

Return to Mijas Pueblo, España!

A selfie in a Mijas park with the Mediterranean Sea in the background
A selfie in a Mijas park with the Mediterranean Sea in the background

This week I returned to Mijas Pueblo, Spain on the Costa del Sol near the Mediterranean Sea. Last year I “wintered” in this small village that is perched on a mountainside overlooking the city of Fuengirola and the valley leading to the sea. When I left Mijas in March, I reflected that I felt like it was “home” to me.

I established several relationships with people living in the Mijas community last winter and I felt that in many aspects I became interested in things that occupy the minds of the residents. If you follow my blog you also know that I had exceptional experiences over the spring and summer months in Austria. But I am happy to return to Mijas Pueblo and on the very first day found myself comfortably fitting in!

IMG_3046After stopping by the rental office and retrieving a bag I had left there, I found myself reconnecting. I once again went to Bella Vista, my favorite small cafe on the Avenida de Mejico leading into the pueblo. Bruno works there and he recognized me, we greeted each other, and in Spanish asked if I wanted my usual… pitufa con tomate, zumo de narajna, y té. Of course!! And then yesterday near my favorite grocery store I found one of the black cats that was a kitten last year.

IMG_1935It is nice to be home for the winter months. I am planning to explore more this winter than I did last year and have been identifying places that I will venture to from my home base in Mijas. As I conduct my explorations, I will post about them here in my blog. As always, if there are things you would like me to write about in my explorations, just email me or, like Peter and Linda, plan a trip to come visit!

There is a lot to see and do.

My Explorations Move from Austria to Spain

The train arrived to take me to the Vienna Airport
The train arrived to take me to the Vienna Airport

Yesterday was my departure day from Austria and the conclusion of my current exploration there. I am returning to Spain from my holiday and I am heading to the Costa del Sol, Sun Coast, on the Mediterranean Sea. Once again I will reside in Mijas Pueblo through winter because the temperature doesn’t approach freezing and, most importantly, the choice to be in snow is mine. I choose NOT!

During my last few weeks in Austria I have been reflective of my exploration and the people, places, and culture which I have blogged about and reminisced through photos on Facebook. Before leaving Austria I went to Stadtpark, City Park, in Vienna one final time. It became one of my favorite places in Austria. Envisioned by Emperor Franz Josef, the center city park was set aside for people like me and future generations to enjoy the wooded paths, the pond and the wildfowl that take to it, and the serene escape that comes with it. Classical music from Shubert, Strauss, Mozart, and many others is celebrated in the park with memorials lining the walking paths.

Leaves are beginning to change color near the pond at Stadtpark, Vienna
Leaves are beginning to change color near the pond at Stadtpark, Vienna

With autumn in Austria, the evening light is dwindling, leaves are turning colors, and the reflections in the pond foretell the coming of snow and cold. On my last park exploration I stood by a child tossing bread to the ducks and enjoyed watching people snapping photos. I saw an elderly gentleman with a heavy tan blanket on his lap, confined to a wheelchair and his wife standing behind him watching the activity. Although his expression didn’t change you could see the same joy I felt as I looked into his eyes.

As evening approached the woman wheeled her husband from the park as the chill in the air intensified; it became time for me to leave. I made my way back to Wolkersdorf to enjoy the warmth and glow of the fireplace one more time. I will return to this wonderful Austrian city again. But for now, I will continue my exploration from the warmth of the Spanish Mediterranean coast where more adventures await in Marbella, Palma, Tenerife, and many other places.

From 28 C in Mijas, Spain to 5 C in Krems, Austria!

I Love SpainYesterday I arrived in Krems, Austria where I am residing on holiday from Mijas, Spain. It was a chilly 5 degrees C (41 F with snow flurries) when I arrived in Krems which is in stark contrast to the 28 degrees C (82 F with people sunbathing on the beach) when I left Spain!

After six months in Spain my lease had expired and people are returning for the hot Summer. My plan has been to stop next in Austria for several months and Krems became my choice after visiting in January. I am posting a few scenes of the architecture in Krems.

Krems 2The town of approximately 25,000 may be the oldest in Austria. A few years ago a child’s grave was found in Krems and is thought to be more than 27,000 years old! The town is along the Danube (Donau) River and is easily accessible by train to nearby Vienna and elsewhere throughout Austria. Many tourists will soon be arriving by bus, boat and train to explore hiking trails, the river, food, culture, architecture and nearby castles. Since I like these things too, I will be a tourist for the next few months!

Krems 1On arrival my landlord recommended I eat at El Gozo in Krems. It is his favorite restaurant so I met Lu, the owner. She is recently from Madrid and enjoyed helping me order tapas and wine. The food and value were outstanding and I have written a separate review of the restaurant on TripAdvisor. What a coincidence arriving from Spain and eating my first dinner at the sole Spanish restaurant in town!

After eating I had planned to shop for groceries… after all it was only 8:00 PM. Lu reminded me that in Krems, the grocery stores close at 7:00 PM which is sharp contrast to life in Spain where things are just beginning then for the evening! So I went grocery shopping today!

More to come so please return to my blog in the future and read about my adventure in Krems an der Donau!

Auf widersehen!

Reflections as I Near the End of My Stay in Mijas, Spain

In the waning days here in the pueblo it dawned on me that I think of this as my town. I know the town doctor and the people at the Bella Vista know what I like to eat for breakfast. Alfredo, the butcher at the market knows me and shakes my hand as we meet on the street and asks me how I am. Brenda and Steve at The English Tea Room are always friendly and enjoyable to talk with. Of course, Joanne, David and Martin who rent the place I am staying, are very helpful. I even have a taxi driver and butane delivery contact in my phone!

Today I realized that I was very comfortable in the pueblo. I have answered tourist questions like I knew what I was talking about! But most IMG_0009important to me was that I have become fascinated by the tourists just as the local people are fascinated by them. I sat for a while in Constitution Plaza and watched them. As a cruise ship tour group from Japan was in town today I realized they were enjoying the very same things that have drawn me to Mijas… the beauty of the town on the mountain, the white exteriors of the buildings, the cobble stone streets, the horse-drawn carriages, the donkey taxis, the husband and wife making and selling churros, three for a Euro, at the Plaza near the bull ring and park with its old fountains

As the sun shown on the buildings, I reflected on the initial time I saw the pueblo and how lovely it is. The numerous orange trees still have oranges on them and the air wafts with the aroma of street vendors roasting nuts. Today I had my traditional pitufa con tomate breakfast as I gazed at the valley, the massiveIMG_2787 Mediterranean Sea, Fuengirola, and the beach below.

On my return to my apartment I stopped for bread just out of the oven. Like a local, I knew when it was ready and had my plastic bag ready to carry my items away, just like the local people do. In the final few days here in Mijas Pueblo I feel like I have become a local resident.

As I move to Krems, Austria in a couple of weeks I am certain to further reflect on my adventure in Mijas Pueblo on the Costa del Sol, the warm beach,, the mountains in Morocco that can be seen on a clear day, the beautiful sunsets, no snow, and many other things. It has been a wonderful place to stay.

Day Trip to Malaga

Malaga is the nearest community to Mijas Pueblo with a substantial population on the Costa del Sol in Andalusia, Spain. It is the capital of the Provence of Malaga. The city is one of the oldest in the world with a recorded history that dates into the 700’s BC. Phoenicians, Romans, and the Moors were all in Malaga at one time or another.

Malaga is a port for several cruise lines and many of the people on those cruises take day trips to Mijas Pueblo where I have been residing since October. The climate in Malaga is mild.

My day trip began with a bus ride down the mountain I live on to get to the train station in Fuengirola. Forty five minutes later I arrived in the heart of the small city of half million inhabitants.

Walking the streets of Malaga there is no doubt you are in a European city. The architecture is beautiful and the avenues are graced with old as well as newer sculptures and fountains. There are outdoor cafés everywhere and it seemed to me that if there was room for a small table, that was sufficient reason to have a place to drink some of the best coffee in the world or to stop for ice cream or chocolate.

Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso. I must admit that I find the curiosity surrounding him much more interesting than his art. That is just my taste. But Picasso is found everywhere including one of the Picasso museums that are in the area.

Some recommend that Malaga should be a destination for those wishing to avoid snow and winter. Although it is a nice city, my preference is to claim my spot on the side of the mountain overlooking  the Mediterranean Sea and the distant Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Next week I plan to visit Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. I hope you will stop by my blog for one of my final entries before I move on to Austria on April 1.

For those who have asked, my hernia surgery took place three weeks ago and I am healing fine. It has taken a bit longer than I had anticipated but all is going well.

Mallorca – Winter Next Year?

As I approach the end of February I have been sorting what things I should take to the U.S. on my upcoming trip. I leave for the U.S. this Thursday and will be returning to Spain March 8/9. Before heading off to Krems, Austria for my two month holiday, I have decided to make a quick three-day trip to Playa de Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca. (The above Mallorca picture is provided copyright of HM Hotels).

Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Pictured on the map, it is the large Spain-physical-mapisland on the right side. Why there you ask? Well, in Mijas I am only an hour and a half away and got a flight / hotel deal that is great. I have been watching the Winter weather there and it has been better than Mijas and I am thinking it might be a place to go to! So, I have it booked for March 10 – 12.

Following my trip there, I will write about it in the blog and let you know what I think about it as a possible destination. Meanwhile, I am determined to soon write about my day trip to Malaga. Malaga is Picasso’s birthplace.