Friday, June 30, 2017

June 2017: Malaga, Gibraltar & Arcos

After Silvio dropped us at the Malaga airport and we grabbed the (Hertz) rental car – which was an interesting and somewhat frustrating treasure hunt given how well Spanish airports disguise their car rental offices – we decided to tour the city of Malaga by car.  Our eventual goal was to find a nice seaside restaurant for a late lunch.  There were plenty of inviting eateries that would have fit the bill just fine, but finding a place to park even the small car we had rented was beyond challenging.  It apparently was, as previously noted, the peak of the summer vacation season in southern Spain.  There simply was no place to park the vehicle.

Wind Turbines in the Spanish Hills
We tired of the traffic and multiple U-turns (the numerous roundabouts helped to some degree) and ultimately said “screw it” and jumped on one of the main freeway arteries to head towards Marbella, a very attractive coastal resort area to the southwest.  As we were headed in that general direction Chelle got on the phone and started dialing hotels in that area.  After about six “no room at the inn” results we said “to hell with that” as well, and just kept going all the way back to Gibraltar.

A note on Spanish highways….they are excellent roadways, usually tolled, divided four lane affairs (two in each direction) with speed limits ranging from 80 to 120 kilometers per hour (about 50 to 75 mph).  And they drive on the right side of the road.  Additionally, the drivers are quite polite and professional – unlike Florida, Spanish drivers fully respect the protocol that the left lane is for fast passes, and everyone else sticks to the right lane. Except for the motorbikes -- they go anywhere they want or can fit.  The spans through the Baetic mountains are scenic in their own way – somewhat barren due to the very dry climate, but interesting elevation changes, numerous tunnels, and frequent arrays of modern power-generating wind turbines (more on that later.)

View from Our GIB Hotel Room
So our trip back to Gibraltar was relatively quick at 136 klicks and two hours.  Since drivers there also use the right-side driving protocol, and the customs checkpoint is barely a formality, we checked into the Sunborn Hotel there by late afternoon and had a very relaxing evening only a few hundred meters from where we had been Med-moored on Relish the week before.

The Sunborn (see link to Marina and Hotel HERE) is another interesting feature of The Rock….in particular its lack of real estate on which to build new structures.  Indeed, a good portion of the land here – anything below the original and very prominent seawall – is fill from dredging or rock excavations.  The Sunborn is actually a cruise ship built in 2014 specifically to serve as a floating hotel since there simply wasn’t enough land left in Gibraltar to accommodate such a structure.  Nice place. 

From The Rock Looking Across the Straits....You Can See
Morocco in the Distance
This was a day to sleep late & tour The Rock…something we didn’t have a chance to do when we first passed through here aboard Relish.  We’re glad we returned.

Gibraltar is steeped in interesting history, and you can experience quite a bit of it by touring the various features of its most prominent point….but hire one of the experienced tour drivers in the city’s main square, don’t even think about driving up the Rock on your own.  Gibraltar is a “British Overseas Territory” and has been since 1713 when the results of the War of the Spanish Succession were formalized in the form of a treaty, and in perpetuity.  Spain would still like to have it back; and the Brits’s response is still “bugger off” as they point to that perpetuity clause.  Over the centuries before that treaty, this small area has seen occupation by the Roman Empire, Visigoths, the Moors and a few others, in addition to the Spaniards.  But the citizens here seem to like the place just as it is now, and have no desire or intention of letting go.  It was a very strategic allied stronghold during World Wars I and II, and a lot of that military significance is easy to see when you tour The Rock.
A Female Macaque with Her Infant....These Small Apes
Are All Over the Rock.  And If You Have Food Visible,
It Will Soon Be Theirs

Another very nice aspect of the Gibraltar area is the number of fine restaurants within an easy walk.  Whether it be Argentinian, Chinese, Indian, French, Italian or some other continental cuisine, it isn’t difficult to find nearby eateries offering quality fare.  And that’s a good thing since, as Silvio said, nobody ever visited England for the food. We found two Argentinian steakhouses, one called “Gauchos”, and both had some of the best beef steaks we’d tasted in recent memory.  We remembered and toasted our own Gaucho – he would have loved the simple and great-tasting “meat and potatoes” protocol.

Our morning was dedicated to catching up on personal things….Rick got a much needed haircut (it had been two months and the shagginess was not comfy), and Chelle had an appointment with a local doc to diagnose / treat a mild double ear infection.  What little we saw of the healthcare system in GIB impressed us….readily available, efficient and inexpensive.

The Top of the Rock of Gibraltar
After a brief pit stop at one of the many sidewalk cafes in GIB for a light lunch, we piled into our rental car once again for a drive to Arcos de la Frontera, one of several “White Hill Towns” that dot the Andalusia region of southern Spain.  This area of Spain is what Rick Steves calls a “charm bracelet of cute villages [that] gives you wonderfully untouched Spanish culture.”

It was only about a two hour drive up into the mountains, and in the final 20 km it was easy to tell we were approaching an old town perched on the side of a cliff…streets – if you could call them that – weren’t just narrow, they were almost claustrophobic.  We were very glad that our rental was a compact vehicle, because it’s no exaggeration when we say that both of us could reach a hand out the window and touch building walls on either side….at the same time. Clearly most of them had been built for horse or foot traffic.
View From Our Arcos Hotel Balcony

Neither “old” nor “historic” quite describe it when you consider they’ve discovered archaeological remains here from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Tartessian, Phoenician and Roman periods, with plenty of written history for the following Moorish and Christian periods.  Thankfully it hasn’t changed much in the past few hundred years.

We Drove Down This "Street"
Chelle Went Back to Measure It.
Old town Arcos is an engaging and attractive labyrinth of cobbled rock streets that lead up to a sandstone castle, the Castillo de los Arcos. And when you finally get up there you are treated to a spectacular vantage point, with exhilarating views over the town and the rolling plains below.  It was easy to spend a couple of hours just strolling through the historic old-town area and sampling the sumptuous local food at the numerous outdoor cafes.

A word about eating habits and protocols here.  If you go seeking a restaurant for your evening meal any time before 2000 (8pm) you’ll find nothing except a nice menu posted outside a locked door.  Before then, however, you can easily find numerous cafes, mostly sidewalk style, than offer a wide variety of tapas (appetizers), wine, liquor and beer.  And desserts, too – they seem to love their ice cream (most hand-churned) here.  The real dinner hour in these parts seems to start around 2100 (9pm), and then the younger folks take over the streets.  The nightclub scene cranks up around 0300 and goes to just after dawn.  And now you know how and why the afternoon siesta came about.

Next up:  a few days in Cadiz, Sevilla and Ronda.  In the meantime, a few more pics follow from our enjoyable stay in Arcos de la Frontera:

Another View From Our Hotel
And Another from Our Balcony
And Another from Our Balcony
We Could Also See this Old Church from the Hotel Patio
Another Typical "Street" in Old Arcos
That's Our Hotel (Parador).  Notice the Parking in the Square.  It Was Full.
We Parked Med-Mooring Style with the Rear Wheels on a Sidewalk.
Which Apparently is Fine as Long as You Have a Note on Your Dash from the Hotel and
Don't Block Another Vehicle.
A View of the Cliff and Our Hotel from the Bottom of
the Ravine.
Did We Mention the Narrow "Streets"?
Now That's How Sangrias are Made....
....At This Place.  Great Tapas, Too!

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