Malaga is not an incredibly touristy place really. When I mentioned to our Australian tour guide (one of many Australian tour guides we met in Spain, not sure if this is coincidence or not) that we were simply here because our Ryanair flight brought us here, he replied “everyone comes to Malaga because their Ryanair flight brought them here.” Luckily for this small coastal city, cheap European domestic travel has upped their tourism value, and lured many American students along the way. We stayed at the Melting Pot Hostel, right on the beach, and I can’t say enough about our experience there. We were immediately introduced to Jorge, the owner and head chef, who had Katherine slipping into an apron and cleaning barnacles off of mussels within our first half hour. Under his (entirely Spanish) tutelage we prepared seafood paella for our fellow residents, complete with shrimp, mussels, and a number of other seafoody ingredients I did not recognize (Midwest upbringing, what can I say). It was delicious, and served us and all of the Californians/Canadians/Brits/Scots we met that evening. The highlight of Malaga: the people we met.
Jorge and Katherine, our chefs for the evening
The paella master at work
The final product
Sunlight and orange trees
Beach beach beach
If Malaga is the coast/palm trees/Sangria portion of Spain, then Granada is the winding roads/white-washed neighborhoods/tapas portion of Spain. It is well-known and well-loved, among tourists and Spaniards alike. It is most famous for the Alhambra, a complex of Islamic fortresses and palaces built in the 14th century, and for its tapas tradition. If you order a drink before 1 am the bar/restaurant owner is required to serve you free food as well, which results in many drinks and many small plates of “tapas,” delicious usually-seafood appetizers. Needless to say we took advantage of both of these attractions.
A panorama of Granada taken from the Alhambra
The Alhambra at night
Views of the Albaicin, the historic Muslim neighborhood of Granada
Roads built for donkeys, tight indeed
I will always remember Florence for one tucked-away family restaurant and a fried pasta bread appetizer with Arugula, olive oil and perfect clouds of mozzarella cheese that changed my life. I saw the Uffizi, a number of Raphael paintings, the Duomo, Italian marching bands and unification day celebrations, and honestly, I can still say that this one dish was my favorite part of Florence. I feel like I should apologize for my lack of culture and unashamed love of anything that involves cheese and olive oil, but it’s probably not that surprising to any of you. I am still trying to find a similar recipe for the bread, and will probably spend most of my life trying to replicate it.
Here are some pictures that hopefully do justice for the non-food portions of our Florentine experience.
The Duomo, as seen from Michelangelo Plaza
A panorama of Florence, also from the Michelangelo Plaza
Kath, Nat, and I, Michelangelo Plaza
Levanto, Italy and the Cinque Terre:
Our final experience was perhaps our most memorable one, for me at least. The Cinque Terre may be familiar to some of you, as it has (over the past 15 years or so) became a tourist attraction along the West coast. It is a collection of five villages/small cities that dot the coast, each within several miles of the next, wedged into mountain sides and cliff faces. There is a lovely coastal boardwalk-type path that connects all five, so people flock to it in the Summer and Fall to hike the entire stretch (a journey that takes a few hours, but ultimately isn’t overly taxing from what I’ve heard). This was our plan when we arrived in Levanto, one town to the north of the northern most village (one train stop and a few short miles away from the start of the hike). We arrived that morning prepared for leisurely hiking (brought along our hiking packs to look like we fit in, but didn’t expect them to be much more than sophisticated picnic-packs), and found out very quickly that the usual hike was closed for repairs. This left an alternate trail, however, the “red trail,” or more difficult and presumably-inland trail. This trail was free! And as poor college students at the end of a week-long European road trip it sounded too good to be true. It would take longer, and as we traced it along the map we saw that it would take us in from the coast before bringing us back out to the lookouts in each village, which was fine, we were okay with some wooded walks (we brought our hiking packs, after all).
What we failed to realize, however, was that the trails were not actually “inland” at all, but that the trail map had attempted to convey what was impossible with a 2-D representation: these trails, literally, went up. For my mother’s sake I will not go into further detail about the lacking trail width and the number of times I was using all four limbs to climb up narrow rock faces, but I will say that after a quick midway-five-minute-fetal-position moment of near panic I was able to pull it together and we climbed to the top, between the villages of Vernazza and Corniglia. This was the most terrifying, most absurdly hilarious, and most rewarding adventure I have ever embarked on. When we reached leveler ground near the top we noticed a small cottage tucked into the mountainside, and a beautiful Italian couple eating a late brunch together on a terrace overlooking the trail. The man, David, waved us up, asking us pleasantly if we would like to join them for tea. As if in a dream we wandered up to the terrace, met his lovely girlfriend Sarah, and shared Earl Grey tea, biscuits, and some kind chit-chat about the weather and Italian tourism for a half hour or so. He laughed easily with us, joking that we “didn’t look so good” coming up, and that “not too many people come up this way.” How true David, how true.
Halfway up and feeling pretty good...level ground
A panorama from the terrace
Hiking through olive groves
San Bernardino, a small village halfway up and a lovely resting spot
Views from the top
Clouds moving over the mountains
A view of Corniglia on our way down
Finishing the hike
Views from Corniglia
One final snapshot of the coast
I knew brevity would fail me, but I do hope these snapshots suffice. I can hardly put it all into words, but it was certainly an incredible experience, start to finish, and if you have any interest in the pared-down 200 photo collection of our travels you can check out the album here.