Spain Tour – Tour Day 10

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By Susan Mahr

October 14, 2017

Everyone enjoyed breakfast at their leisure and were in the lobby around 9:20 when Alberto pulled up with the bus. We loaded up and were on our way at 9:30, driving the winding streets downs from the heights with a dramatic view of Granada below to drive through the tunnel and onto the freeway. We passed along the modern parts of the big city under mostly clear skies with just some patchy milky clouds off in one direction, and little drifts of mist along the flanks of the low mountains. We turned onto the E-902 toward Jaén, then went off onto the smaller (but still divided highway) A-92 toward Málaga, still in the outskirts of the city. By 10:00 we had made it out of the industrial areas and were back into countryside where olives or golden stubble of wheat fields covered most of the rolling hills. Soon we were passing patches of artichokes, plots of dry standing corn, asparagus in leaf, and irrigated alfalfa on the flat valley bottom, but still ranks of olives on the slopes all around and sporadic white houses with red tile roofs here and there. We climbed up and over a low mountain with rocky outcroppings and past the large town of Loja with its tall cathedral amid the old buildings and large football (soccer) pitch off on the edge of the town. Past Cuesta Blanca, Cuesta la Palma, Villanueva and other small towns, with taller, craggy mountains in the distance, but still agriculture everywhere. Olives covered every slope, but flatter spaces were devoted to other crops, and in this area some of the empty fields looked like they had been plowed recently. Then it was back up across another low mountain pass, with olives on the slopes, but native vegetation and rocky outcroppings on the peaks. Ahead loomed a tall, pyramidal mountain of almost all rock. We took the A-45 toward Málaga now under mostly cloudy skies. The dry hills had fewer olives and more sparse native vegetation infested with opuntias and agaves, with the median filled with blooming pink or white oleander.

A huge bull stood over the road near Villanueva de la Concepcion, with the white houses and church perched on the opposite hillside. We crossed over the Rio Guadalmedina and began a long descent (crossing the river numerous more times further down) down the mountainside, going through several short tunnels, and down the narrow gorge with eucalyptus scattered about the meandering river bottom (currently completely dry with a narrow sandy bottom). We kept going down, down, down, with a few towns and pockets of citrus trees on the edges of the valley bottom and a few terraced slopes with olives, but mainly sparse native trees and shrubs with rock and dry golden grass between.

At 11:00 we turned off toward La Concepción and drove the narrow, winding road another few kilometers to get to the Jardín Botánico-Histórico La Concepción de Málaga. The estate of La Concepción belonged to the Marquises of Casa Loring from 1850 through to 1911 when it was bought by the Echevarria-Echevarrieta family. It eventually fell into disrepair and was purchased by the Malaga City Council in 1990 and restored to become one of the best botanic gardens in Europe. The aristocratic couple Jorge Loring Oyarzábal and his English wife Amalia Heredia Livermore created this impressive park in the mid-19th century after visiting some of Europe’s finest gardens. The began to ship in some the best examples of flora from all over Europe, but then added exotic species brought by their commercial fleet from Latin America, the Philippines and Australia, eventually building one of the finest collections of flora in southern Europe. Only 23 of the 49 hectares are open to the public, with winding paths, ponds, waterfalls and streams amid the lush semi-tropical vegetation. The gardens have one of the most comprehensive and complete palm collections in the world (over 500 plants of 95 species), and is home to Spain’s largest collection of insectivorous plants.

While Mary purchased tickets, we used the toilets and were ready for our 45 minute guided tour with Pepa (supposed to be 75 minutes). As we walked through the beautiful plantings of tropical and subtropical species, she provided a very brief history and told about a few of the plants, having to check her notes constantly. We wandered from place to place, unable to get up to the former residence as they were setting up for a wedding that afternoon, and eventually headed up to the mirador (overlook) where one end of Málaga covered the hillside across from us. We were left on our own up there, with Susan accidentally discovering a sci-fi looking brown and tan praying mantid in the flowering bushes. We then had rest of the time free to check out the cactus and succulent garden (looking rather pathetic and neglected, overgrown with weeds in places and lots of dead plants), wander through palm collections, or the “thematic” collections, with groupings of plants from other Mediterranean climates around the world, although these also were in poor condition with few species and lots of blank spaces. There was a nice blooming Aristolochia intermingled with purple morning glory and other vines along a hedge around the café. The huge terrarium-like iron and glass structure nearby held a collection of epiphytes, ant plants and insectivorous plants to view through the windows (no access for the public).

We were back on the bus by 1:00 for the short drive into the city, going on surface streets for a while to rejoin the highway. We took the exit onto Avenida Andalucia into the city center, with tall palms lining the median and a fair amount of traffic on the six lanes. We stopped at a traffic light where a juggler performed in front of the vehicles, then came asking for a small donation. We then turned this way and that to make our way through the large city to get to the train station about 1:20 where Cindy disembarked (this was the most convenient place for her to get a taxi to the airport for her afternoon flight). We continued on through the city, passing along the port where a couple of large cruise ships were docked (as well as container ships). Four of us were dropped off about 10 minutes later at Hotel Room Mate Valeria, with Alberto taking Susan & Dan and Tom & Janice over to a bus stop on the main avenue to walk one block over to the Mahr’s Hotel Don Curro (where T & Janice would store their luggage before moving to another hotel further away from the city center).

We met at Hotel Room Mate Valeria about 2:00 to slowly make our way across the main drag of Alameda Principal, passed the Cathedral, walked narrow streets lined with shops and cafes with seating outside toward a restaurant that Jonathan had recommended, Bodegas El Pimpi, but when we got there it was packed, with people standing and waiting for tables, so we decided to go somewhere else. We retraced our way down Calle San Augustin to the busy Restaurante Tormes, open since 1963. The tables at their outdoor patio across the cobblestone street were full, but they had seating available inside for our group of eight, so we trooped inside to sit at a one large table. Service was a bit slow, with an order for a bottle of cava for three people taken, but no other drink orders until after that was served. We got baskets of bread for the table and ordered our food. It took a while to come out, but pretty soon we were served large dishes of food: grilled whole prawns, a platter of asparagus with roasted red pepper strips, chicken and potatoes, a large veal hamburger patty, deep fried baby squid, and boquerones fritos (the traditional gastronomic specialty in Malaga of anchovies caught in the nearby Sea of Alboran, beheaded and gutted, then lightly battered and fried in extra virgin olive oil). We lingered for a while after the food was done, waiting for the bill, and for a cappuccino (and one dessert that was never served). Finally at 4:15 we departed the restaurant, with Linda, Mary, Hannah and Charlene heading back to their hotel, and Susan, Dan, Tom and Janice wandering through the city center. We continued down Calle San Augustin for a bit, but instead of retracing our previous route, cut off on a different street before we reached the Cathedral to walk through Plaza del Siglo to Plaza Carbón on Calle Granada where we stopped Helartia for ice cream. After enjoying our snack while sitting on the concrete fountains nearby, we continued on that street until it curved around to Plaza de la Constitución with its red marble paving and became the very fashionable pedestrian mall of Calle Marquéd de Larios. Tourists, locals, families, college students and teenagers strolled up and down the white marble pavement, past high end retail shops, numerous ice cream places, street performers, and souvenir shops. We ducked into Café Levanto, the city’s poshest confitería (sweet shop), but they didn’t have anything Dan wanted (he hadn’t gotten any ice cream earlier).

We were back to the Alameda Principal, where we crossed to Plaza de la Marina to check out some of the offerings in the booths set up for the Sabor a Málaga (Flavor of Málaga, with 30 companies showcasing cheese, olive oil and wine from the region to promote these products). We didn’t sample any of the goat cheeses, but Susan did buy a small cone of roasted local almonds for 1€ (we’d seen many other almond street vendors around on our walks here and in other cities) for us to taste, and on the other side of the Plaza, as we were heading for the Park, we passed another vendor offering roasted chestnuts, so Janice purchased a small cone of those for 2€ (a much larger quantity than the almonds) for us to try.  They were harder to eat than the almonds, as we had to peel them ourselves, but good to try, especially for anyone who had never had them before. It was 5:45 when we started walking along one of the many paths through the Parque de Málaga which stretches for several city blocks between two of Malaga’s most iconic streets, thePaseo de las Curas (the monk’s walkway) and the Paseo del Parque. The park is not only a botanical collection of tropical and subtropical plants (but curiously only the palms were labeled) but a place of peace and quiet for locals amid the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets with carefully landscaped gardens interspaced with benches and fountains, plus two children’s parks and a small open-air theater. We only spent about 20 minutes wandering through the attractive and diverse vegetation before we returned to the Plaza, crossed the main street, and returned to Hotel Don Curro so Tom and Janice could retrieve their stored luggage and get a taxi to their small hotel in a distant residential area.

Around 6:30 Mary, Linda and Hannah gathered on the rooftop of their hotel, with Susan and Dan joining them about 20 minutes later, to lounge on the day beds near the pool while enjoying drinks from the nearby bar. The place was noisy with music and a crowd of people, so we were glad to be away from that and the cigarette smoke. We chatted and enjoyed our wine, sangria or margaritas in the pleasantly warm air as the light slowly diminished. Soon the lights on the large ferris wheel near the water across from the hotel came on, the loud horns of a departing cruise ship blasted, and lights began to twinkle on as dusk fell. About 8:00 Susan and Dan said their farewells to the others who would be flying out early the next morning, and headed downstairs for the short walk back to their hotel to retire for the evening.

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