Saturday, January 16, 2016

Spain for Christmas!

Last Christmas season found us in southern South America - Patagonia. This was our first trip to this continent so we thought what a great place to spend both Christmas and New Years among the mountains of Chile. Ice cold glaciers filled in for snow covered trees.

Good friends of ours in Charlotte decided to spend a year traveling around Europe. Their first 5 months was along the Costa del Sol in Nerja, Spain. They moved into their apartment in November. When we heard of their plans we tentatively asked them if they would like some company in December. I figured it never hurts to ask, right? Well the request was well received and plans were made.

Ray and I left Singapore on 11 December, 2015 flying Swiss Airlines with a stop over in Zurich. The advantage of this flight schedule was getting to fly over the Alps during the afternoon! We arrived in Malaga, Spain with Mary Jane and Jim waiting for us. What a joy. We have not seen our friends since the end of June, 2014. Our first stop after getting luggage and a taxi into town was to stop for a glass of wine/beer at an outside restaurant at the bus station.

Ray and Mary Jane at the bus station cafe

We then took a 1-hour bus into Nerja. I was really enjoying the temperature. Having to wear a jacket and sometimes a scarf was delightful. We got settled into their apartment and our bedroom and then took off walking the city.

The Mediterranean and the Balcon de Europa

It's truly hard to describe this place without going overboard with flowery words. The air is crisp, the breeze is comfortable, and The Med is breathtaking. For the next five days we enjoyed walking the streets, window shopping, and buying pastries whenever possible. Ray and I had culture shock with the prices here. The Euro was almost equal to the US dollar at this point which was good for my un-mathematical brain but the cost of things was SO much less than in Singapore and so much less than the US.

It's been a long time and maybe never before have we paid $90 US for a dinner for four (4) people with appetizers, a bottle of wine, and a really fine meal (Rincon Del Sevillano). The Carramimbre wine was $14 US and that was what the restaurant charged us!

Rincon Del Sevillano

We found ourselves enveloped into the lifestyle of this city with it's odd store closing times (2pm-5pm daily) and the small town walking-everywhere way of life. We also partook of some religiosity which is unusual for Ray and me. We attended church services on Sundays and Christmas morning at a local Anglican parish.


Nerja is a popular spot for Brits, Germans, and Scandinavians wanting a break from winter weather. The expat Brits set up their own parish and rented church space from the local Catholic Church. One of the side benefits of this particular group was their after services get-together at the local cafe. Beer, wine, cafe con leche and tapas was enjoyed almost a much as the conversations. This was truly delightful.

Along with wandering the city's narrow twisty streets, we spent hours just talking and sharing the "news" with our friends that we've been saving up. Face-to-face talks are way better than a Skype call any day.

Ray booked our tickets for the Alhambra - our visit to there is described in an earlier posting. It was fun to visit another Spanish city, larger and more modern than Nerja. It was just the right amount of change so that when we got back we felt it was good to be in a small town again.

Ray and I are still talking about the tapas freely given out in most cafes in Spain. It is just such a nice, unexpected pleasure.

The Christmas spirit was all around us with lights and decorations everywhere. We found it interesting that the predominant colors of the decorations were blue and white, unlike the US's preference for red and green. We bought a small artificial tree in one of the several "Asian" run discount stores around the city. We bought lights and supplies to decorate the tree.


I think we all did a great job making the apartment shine at least for a few weeks. Some of the ornaments were made from Med beach rocks. Not many shells at all (rats) but wow, were there beach rocks - all different sizes, colors, and shapes. All pleasingly rounded and smooth.

Speaking of the beaches. The Nerja coastline is broken up into many small beaches. We noticed quickly that each beach was a bit different from the others. Many of them were the typical holiday beaches along the fancy hotels with the umbrellas and the manicured sand. But the rest were not manicured and were very interesting. Very little in the way of driftwood but the sand coloring was different from beach to beach as well as the amount of rocks on the sand. Quite interesting.

One morning Ray, Jim, and I decided to hike along the Rio Chillar, the river that runs along the west border of Nerja a short walk from our apartment. We read up on the hike and it is popular especially in the summer when the river is full. Makes for a nice cooling hike. The river was very wide and dry as it "flows" into The Med in the winter months. We followed it towards the mountains and saw a way different part of the city. We heard chickens, mules, and saw horses, avocado orchards and some really nice farmsteads (fincas). As we got out of town more the Chillar became a bit more stream-like. The water never got more than a few inches deep but we had to tiptoe over rocks from one side to another to keep following it. Very enjoyable hike.

Part way up we took at turnoff to find a geocache called Rio Chillar. Met Louise, another geocacher from Copenhagen, in town with her family.

Saw one huge rock outcropping where much of the white beach stones must come from. Not sure how I did it but I spotted a wild goat high up on the mountain hopping along the shear face.

Along the Rio Chillar

This area appears to have been mined as part of an abandoned cement plant

Pat and Jim in a cave along the Rio Chillar

The landscape did remind us of the Western US states. We tried hard not to get wet since the water was so shallow but, alas it was not to happen. We all got a bit damp of foot. We even found some caves. It was a great hike.

Christmas morning found a bunch of wrapped presents under our tree. We all got great thoughtful gifts, knitted slippers, tile magnets, an abacus (for the numbers man, Jim), a leather vest, an Espana apron, etc. It was quite a bit different from the crazed Christmas mornings with little kids but there was just as much wrapping paper ripping and laughter with the four of us.

We made reservations at an Irish restaurant (Fitzgerald's Bar and Restaurant) for Christmas dinner that turned out to be more of a family gathering. Many of the people knew each other already and there was lots of singing and really good food.

26 December was a low energy day for all of us, slept in a bit longer than usual. Had a simple breakfast of pastries and tea. Over our daily breakfasts we managed to sample almost all of the different pastries we could find - to Ray's total enjoyment as well as the rest of us. We took a short stroll down the other side of the Rio Chillar staying within the town this time. We were surprised how many orchards and farmed land was just on the other side of the river from town. We saw many more avocado trees as well lemons, oranges, pomegranates and a small yellow fruit we didn't recognize.

For some odd reason The Med was is a really rough mood this evening. Walking along the shoreline was quite a site to see.

The Med showing off

We stopped at the discount store for 4 decks of cards as well as 6 dice. Jim wanted to teach us several new games. One called 10,000 played with the dice. The card game using 4 full decks is called Spite and Malice which was crazy.

All in all, I think we got to experience all of the fun things Jim and Mary Jane had discovered as well as finding a few new ones. We won't easily forget the Retro Bar, Irish Annies, Potters Bar, Pio Pio, Alfonzos, etc.

Here are a few more photos I want to share:

Enjoying our first afternoon in Nerja at an Irish Pub

A sampling of pastries we often enjoyed

Looking west of Nerja

Beautiful and colorful bowls at a shop in Nerja

The sun has set over this part of the Med


Enjoying a glass of wine after one of our walks


Thank you Mary Jane and Jim from the bottom of our hearts!!!