What to Do in Alcalá de Henares: the City of Cervantes

The Spain of my pre-Sevilla had one leading protagonist (perhaps loverboy?) : Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Spain’s most famous author is best known for his chronicle of Spanish knighthood, Don Quijote, Man of La Mancha, and he penned the book while living in Valladolid over 400 years ago.

If you’ve ever studied Spanish, you’ve likely been force-fed the adventures of a wayward knight whose fantasies took over his perceptions of daily life. These days, my fantasies have been about getting out and exploring my new city and its surrondings.

So it seemed only fitting to make our first day trip from Madrid to Alcalá de Henares, the city in which Cervantes was born and to which his name is commonly associated to pay an early homage to his and contributions to the Spanish language and its literature. I’d visited Alcalá on a biting cold April afternoon in 2013; this time, the Novio and I chose a clear day in mid-July to escape the heat in La Capi.

Sunshine and Siestas in Plaza Cervantes

My sense of direction is far sharper than my common sense, so my feet led us right into the historic center and to the Plaza de Cervantes. Ringed with benches and Spanish abuelos (Do I need to tell you that I fell in love with the city immediately?), it sidles up to the university, historic city and Calle Mayor, and is crowned by the former Santa María la Mayor church.

Plaza de Cervantes in Alcalá

Plaza de Cervantes Alcalá

Alcalá is actually a town of 200,000, making it a city by Spain standards. But on a long weekend in the middle of summer, the city itself was about as dead as Cervantes – plazas and bars were empty and shops closed. And without a plan or interest in ducking into a museum, we did little else than stroll from plaza to bar to plaza.

Houses n Alcalá de Henares

Don Quijote in Alcalá

The historic center itself is small and easily walkable, a pleasant cross between the squat, wood-laden buildings conserved from the 16th Century and a modern city with a cutting-edge educational institution.

The Universidad de Alcalá is considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world and became the first planned university city, earning it a UNESCO World Heritage nod. Taking a tour with a guide was the best way to learn about the long and fascinating history of the campus (and it’s under 5€ if you have a carnet joven!) and the role it still has in Spain’s educational system. Oh, and it’s pretty.

University of Alcalá de Henares

Facade of the Complutense in Alcalá

The Novio and I walked arm-in-arm through the winding streets of the city, stumbling upon sun-dappled plazas and retracing the footsteps of Cervantes, Caredenal Cisneros and other prominent Spanish figures. Alcalá was also the city in which the Catholic Kings conceded a meeting to Christopher Columbus and agreed to study his claim that the world was, indeed, not flat.

Calle Mayor Alcalá de Henares

We sidled up to the bar at Bar Índalo, an institution known for its generous free tapas. Most bars give heaping plates of snacks to its student population, but we were más que comidos for less than 12€ and chose tapas rather than having something shoved in front of us. If there’s one thing that Madrid does better than Seville, it’s free bites with your drink (and vermouth. I am an old man when it comes to alcohol).

Tapas at Indalo Alcalá de Henares

Visiting the city following a springtime trip to see the Manchego windmills that Don Quijote thought to be giants, the hallmarks of El Príncipe de los Genios were evident, from statues of the Man of La Mancha to bars hailing Sancho Panza, the voice of reason in Cervantes’s most famous title. It certainly gave me context to the man who wrote the Spanish novel I’ve yet to tackle (I’ve had a 400th Anniversary edition for nearly a dozen years).

Alcalá de Henares

If you go: Alcalá de Henares is a quick cercanías trip from Madrid – it will take you 40 minutes on the C2 or C7 line from Atocha – roundtrip is about 7,20€. Large city festivals include the Día Cervantino on September 9th and Día del Libro on April 23rd, the day marking both Cervantes and Shakespeare’s deaths.

Have you ever been to Alcalá de Henares or another UNESCO World Hertiage site in Spain? My university town is a UNESCO Literary City, and I’m kind of a book nerd, so please share below!

Seville, I’m breaking up with you

Querida Sevilla mía,

You know that age-old, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Well, it’s not me. Eres tú. We’ve reached the end of a nine-year relationship, one marked with uncertainty at the beginning, with as much elation as frustration in the years since we became intimate. And más pronto que tarde, I knew we’d end up here.

Te estoy dejando.

giralda sunset1

My friend Stacy maintains that the first Spaniard you fall for is never the one you stay with – it’s always the second. If Spanish lovers were cities, you’d be my second great love, my second Spaniard. Two years before we got to know each other, Valladolid entered my life. Stately and daunting, but a romance that was always a little off. Castilla y León’s capital never did it for me, a bit too cold and a bit too stand-offish to be anything long-term. Neither the castles nor the robust red wine could woo me, but it was a foray into what it meant to truly love a city.

You and I met on a sweltering July day in 2005, your characteristic heat baking midday as I dragged a suitcase towards Calle Gravina. Back then, the Alameda was all albero, you could drive down Constitution and around the roundabout at Puerta Jerez and there was a noticeable lack of skyscrapers, gastrobars and coffee houses. On the surface, you were beautiful, but I pined for Valladolid, not entirely convinced you were boyfriend material.

tapas bodeguita romero typical Spanish tavern

Two years later, we were thrust together again. Still sore from being flat-out rejected by Granada, I set out to try and get to know you on a Sunday evening in late September when everything was shuttered. Walking down Pagés del Coro, I craned my neck to watch the swallows dip between the balconies and around the spire of La Estrella chapel.

Swallows, golondrinas, always return to where they’re from. Even at that moment, exhausted from two weeks traveling and unsure about starting my job the next morning at IES Heliche, I knew I had returned to where I was to be from. In those tender first steps in our relationship, I was smitten. I would soon fall deeply in love with you.

Plaza del Altozano Triana

But today, nine years later, I ripped the band aid off, and HARD. I just up and left it seems, without time for long goodbyes at all of the places I’ve come to haunt in these years together, to the hundreds of caras I’ve come to know in the barrio. No ugly cries, just a few tears pricking my eyes as I locked up my house, rolled one suitcase to the bus stop and headed towards Santa Justa and, later, Madrid.

Like I said, it’s you, not me.

I guess you could say I saw this coming, like that little ball that sits low in your stomach when you know life is going to darte un giro in a big, big way. I needed that giro because you’d simply gotten to easy. I can understand even the oldest abuelo buried deep into one of your old man bars, can no longer get lost in your tangle of streets. You are a comfortable lover, warm and welcoming, familiar and comforting.

But I’m not one to be estancada, stagnant, comfortable. Walking down La Castellana in March, the ball in my stomach dissipated as I skipped from a job interview back towards Atocha. The trees were bare, but the sky was the same bright blue that always welcomes me in Seville. As they say, de Madrid al cielo. Madrid was calling.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

Sevilla, you’ve been more than good to me, giving me just about everything I’ve ever needed. You’re easy on the eyes, fiery and passionate, deeply sensual and surprising. You’ve shown me the Spain I always wanted to find, even between castles and tintos de Ribera del Duero and my first impression of Spain. You’ve reignited my love for culture, for making strangers my friends, for morning beers and for living in the moment. You changed me for the better.

And you will always be that second great love, te lo prometo. Triana will always be my home.

But you’ve just gotten too small. My dreams and ambitions are too big for your pueblo feel, as much as I’ve come to love it. Your aesthetic beauty continues to enchant me as I ride my bike past the cathedral at twilight or I leave extranjería and am not even mad that my least favorite place in Seville is also one of my favorites. Your manjares are no match for the sleek pubs and international food in Madrid, which I know I’ll grow tired of.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

I admit that it was difficult to reach your core, to understand the way you are and learn to appreciate those nuances. At the beginning, it was all new and fun and boisterous, the out-loud way that you live each day, those directionless afternoons and long, raucous nights. Lunches that stretch into breakfast. Balmy evenings, Cruzcampo in hand. Festival after procession after traffic jam. Unforgettable sunsets. Unannounced rain showers. Biting cold and scalding heat. You are a city of extremes and mood swings, for sure, but you’re at your best that way. You are as passionate as they say you are.

Still, there were frustrations with the language, that lazy way that you “forget” letters and entire syllables. Frustrations with getting around and untangling the back alleys of your deepest barrios. Frustrations navigating the choque between our two cultures and figuring out a way to make it work for nearly a decade. There was a lot of give and take, that’s for sure.

my first feria de abril

And that’s not to say you haven’t changed for the better in these nine years together.

You’re more guiri-friendly, easier to get around and constantly coming up with ways to reinvent yourself without losing what makes you, . Even when I rolled by eyes at the Setas, I found the best views from its waffle-like towers. You always find a way to stay true to yourself, even if that means having to take the long way home when the streets are choked with a procession or if I call the Ayuntamiento and they send my call from office to office without ever getting through to an actual human.

But those same things that I once loved have become annoyances as we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another. Some of it is trivial, lo sé, but in the bigger scheme of things, we need time apart. Room to breathe, to try new things. I can’t get everything I need from you right now, Seville, y ya está. I know the decision was quick and may have its repercussions, but it’s what I have to do right now if we ever want a chance again.

Expat in Seville Cat Gaa

Madrid presents so many new possibilities. I scoffed at the idea of living there and opening myself up to loving it, but it will never be you. In fact, I think it will be like Valladolid, a tough nut to crack and one whose true character I may never know the way that I know you.

I’ll look for you in the bares de viejos, in a sevillano passing by wearing a Betis t-shirt, in the way that the Madrid gatos will laugh at my accent or look puzzled when I ask for a copistería or a cervecita. You’ll probably follow me around, to be honest. You were never one to let go lightly.

I love Seville Heart Necklace

This morning, as I drove over the San Telmo bridge towards Triana, the swallows returned. It was already a warm July morning, maybe even eleven years to the day since I first felt the breeze over the Guadalquivir. Eres un amor para toda la vida, Sevilla. Maybe in three or five years’ time, we’ll find ourselves back together, a bit more mature and ready for a new stage in our relationship. You’ll have changed, I have no doubt, and so will I.

But if the golondrinas are any indication, volveré. It’s the natural course.

Con todo mi cariño,

Cat

Wondering about my absence the past two months? I’ve been back and forth on the AVE, making trips to Madrid for job interviews, spending time alone with Sevilla and even squeezed in a ten-day trip to the US for my sister’s wedding. On July 3rd, 2016 – coincidentally the same day I applied for my visa for Spain in 2007 – the Novio and I officially moved to Madrid. I’ll start a job in a few weeks as an admissions counselor at a prestigious American university with a campus in the heart of La Capi. Adiós, teaching – never thought I’d see the day!!

No time for complatency

Will I like Madrid? I’m positive I will. Will I love it? Not in the same way that I love Seville, but the Novio and I have big plans for the next few years, and Seville was simply too small for our career ambitions. I’m not entirely sure how the scope of Sunshine and Siestas, a blog that has largely been about Andalucía, will change, but you can count on my voice coming through! 

I’m curious to hear your reactions to the news, which I’ve managed to keep surprisingly quiet! Not even sure I believe it myself!

Tapa Thursday: 10 Winter Fruits and Vegetables You Should Be Eating in Spain

My stand-alone freezer is currently stocked with enough stews to get me through the long winter days. Even when the sun is shining midday, my cavernous house feels like a tundra, and I usually need a warm bowl of fabada or a crema de verduras to warm me up before ultimately peeling off layers of clothing to bike to work.

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Venturing to my local market once a week, I beeline right to Antonio’s fruit stand. My frutero will carve off a piece of fruit – often from his own orchard – and hand me a piece of his breakfast. Though seasons don’t change often in Seville, the fruit and vegetable products at Antonio’s stand (or in any market) do, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a carton of strawberries past June or watermelon in December.

While stews and legume-heavy dishes are king during the first few months of the year, your local supermarket will have incredible options that you shouldn’t pass up (they’ll be gone before you know it!)

Citrus Fruits like oranges, clementines and lemons

Winter fruits in Spain oranges and clementines

One of the first indications that winter is coming is visible right outside of your window: orange and lemons trees bend under the weight of branches full of fruit. Winter is high season for naranjas, no doubt.

Sweet Valencia oranges and clementines are even sold on the street by people who have orange trees, and for next to nothing. No excuse to not start the day with orange juice!

Persimmons

Like a try fruit and vegetable hybrid, persimmons – called kaki most commonly in Andalucía – weird me out a bit. It looks like a tomato or bell pepper, but has an extremely sweet taste. My frutero swears it adds years to your life, but I’ll stick to apples.

Quince

Winter fruit in Spain quince membillo and mangoes

Squash and Leeks

If you’re into soups and stews, leeks and squash, in addition to green onions, should be your go-to produce buy. 

Gold star for you if you make leek croquetas.

Green Onions

I grew up in a household full of green onions, and they laced and graced nearly everything my dad cooked. I’ve been buying puños from Antonio once a week and slipping them into my acelgas, on top of fried potatoes and even in to ramen! 

This is also the time of year when their catalán cousin, calçots, take center stage at onion grilling parties. Check out Barcelona Blonde’s post on the calçotada to learn more about an experience at the top of my footed bucket list! 

Avocados

Superfruit lovers can find avocados from late October until the springtime, and they’re used in several Spanish salads. Aguacates are still a bit too far out for Spanish cuisine and even my frutero couldn’t come up with any recipes, but at least there’s guacamole as a back up. 

Sweet Potatoes

Winter Fruit in Spain batatas asadas

Sweet potatoes, like chestnuts, are common street food offerings, cooked over charcoal. Though it’s not a common (or cheap!) staple for Spanish kitchens, many fruterías will sell them already cooked and thus softened.

Mushrooms

Winter food in Spain mushrooms and setas

A popular weekend pastime for Spaniards once the temperatures begin to dip is to forage for mushrooms. In the sierras, nearly two dozen types of shrooms, called setas, grow, and you can find them in sauces, tortillas and croquetas.

As someone who doesn’t love how they feel once I bite into them, I do love anything mushroom flavored! You can find nearly every variety in the produce section, the most popular being the boletus: look for a light brown bulb with a fleshy white stalk.

Artichokes

winter food in Spain artichokes

One of the very first Spanish dishes I ever tried was roasted artichokes christened with small pieces of Iberian ham and olive oil. But it wasn’t the large, leafy bulbs you see in winter time, and it turned me off to the vegetable.

Spain is one of the world’s top three producers of alcachofas, meaning prices are reasonable and artichokes pop up often on restaurant menus.

Nuts like chestnuts, almonds, walnuts

Winter fruit in Spain nuts

Spain literally gives another meaning to chestnuts roasting on an open fire when the castaños trucks hit the streets around November. You can also find a number of other nuts, most notably almonds and enormous, pungent walnuts.

Foreign fruits and veggies like papayas, mangoes and cherimoya

Strange winter fruits in Spain

Although it comes with a higher price tag, winter is prime time for a number of warm-weather fruits from south of the equator. If you’re in Seville, check the special produce stand, El Frutero de Nila, at the Mercado de Triana (stand 4, next to the restrooms).

On my last trip to the market, Antonio split open a clementine and handed it to me. “Toma, guapa. Una frutita tan dulce como tú.” The flesh was sweet, recalling memories of finding California oranges at the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning. 

And then he pulled out a carton of strawberries, the forbidden fruit that usually doesn’t show up until late February. A sign of global warming, surely, but shopping and eating seasonally makes me feel more fully immersed – and it’s cheap!

WINTER

What fruits and vegetables do you consume in wintertime Spain? Do you like eating seasonally?

Tapas Tuesday: Roscón de Reyes, or the Spanish Twist on King’s Cake

The Epiphany is one of my most beloved Spanish Christmas traditions. Not only does it extend my holidays by a few days, but the Cabalgata parade means that candy literally rains down the streets of San Jacinto. Spanish children await their gifts from three wise men who travel on camels, distributing gifts (or coal) much like the Magi did when they traveled to see Christ. Santa Claus is making waves in Spain, but Gaspar, Melchor and Baltaszar are three of the most recognizable faces for a Spanish child.

Apart from collecting hard candies that will serve as bribes for my students until June, people also gobble up the Roscón de Reyes, a sweet cake filled with cream or truffle fluff that’s traditionally served during the afternoon of January 6th. 

Roscon de Reyes

What it is: A panettone-like cake made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk and yeast, plus a few spices. Sliced open in the middle, the cake also has cream in the middle and is decorated with sugar-dipped fruits and sliced almonds. It’s essentially the first cousin of a King’s Cake, traditionally eaten in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday.

Where it’s from: Roscón – and its variants – have long been served in Spain on the Epiphany. The tradition actually began in Rome, when cakes commemorating the Three Wise Men’s search for Christ were served first to the poor and then divvied up for soldiers on the 12th night after Christmas. He who found the lima bean within the cake was exempt from work that day.

Nowadays, the person who finds a small plastic baby is the King or Queen, whereas the unlucky recipient of the bean must often pay for the cake the following year!

Goes great with: Coffee – it helps cut down on all the sugar you just consumed.

Where to find it in Seville: Roscón is one of those dishes that you’re better off buying – without a Thermomix, it’s pretty laborious! Head to any confitería and reserve one (I prefer Filella and Lola in Triana), or even pick one up in a supermarket if you’re in a pinch – a cake for 8 people will run you about 20€.

bakeshop

Have you ever tried Roscón de Reyes?

If you like the Three Kings Cake, try some other convent sweets like Huesos de Santos, Yemas de San Lorenzo or Roscas de Vino.

Typical Non Spanish

I did a Roscón making course as a part of the Typical Non Spanish project through Caser Expat. Unfortunately, it turned me off from every attempting to make my own!

My 15 Favorite Instagrams of 2015

A picture is worth a thousand words they say, and my 189 Instagram shots from 2015 speak of 1000 (and then some) calories, 1000+ kilometers and 1000 moments. It has been a red-letter year: planning my wedding, saying my vows to the Novio and turning 30. And for all of the joy, there were heart-wrenching moments, like losing my aunt to a short battle with cancer, putting our family dog down and watching loved ones go through tough moments, not really sure of what to say.

Nothing is set for 2016, and for once, I’m not penning a list of goals. My life feels like it’s grinded to a halt after 30 years of fast-forwarding, of crossing items off of an ever-growing list. But now there’s someone else helping steer my life and my goals, and a nagging in the back of my head to take another leap of faith, much like I did eight years ago when I moved to Seville.

I’m often nostalgic by year’s end, browsing photos and taking stock of what the last 12 months have brought. Instagram is, by far, one of my favorite ways to share Spain and my life here (but, um, sorry for all of the food and beer pictures).

My 15 favorite have been some of my most popular, but also some of my fondest moments of a year spent mostly in Iberia. Here they are, with about 1000 words to accompany them:

 

Words to freaking live by: eat and drink as life is happy.

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

La Chunga’s waxy paper napkins succinctly summed up one of the small pleasure that makes life in Spain what it is: Eat and Drink, as Life is Happy. As someone who prescribes to the life is short, so have another piece of cake school, I’ll have another round to that, and 2015 was an experiment in eating and drinking well.

 

Ya huele a #Feria! Shopping with @hayleycomments A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

The most wonderful time of the year for sevillanos is not Christmas – it’s the springtime, when orange blossoms and incense perfume the air and every other word is “traje de gitana,” “rebujito” or “feria.” Browsing the shops for flamenco dresses and accessories is way more fun than stressing over what to buy my family (and major apologies for my HDR-happy phase in filters).

 

City streets in #Seville. Pura maravilla.

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

I’ve loved a lot of places in my life, but Seville may be my all-time swoon. The city streets at 9am on a dewey Saturday remind me that, even with my gripes about La Hispalense, it’s a privilege to live here. Come on, churros is an acceptable breakfast and, as evident above, there’s nothing better than wearing a traje de gitana for an entire season straight.  

 

Benditos #Domingos in #Triana A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

More simple pleasures: your más querido wearing a sweater you bought him on the first warm afternoon of the spring, chasing patches of midday sunlight, caña in hand.

 

Entrada de #SanGonzalo in #Triana #SSantaSevilla15

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

I couldn’t call myself the Sevillamericana without having seen the city’s famous Holy Week processions. And living in Triana, there was no way to escape it anyway. Thanks to a family emergency and lack of funds before the wedding, I skipped a far-flung destination in favor of making Seville my life-sized rat trap, only with life-like portrayals of the life and death of Christ and a thousand other bodies as my dead ends. This photo was taken after 2am on Holy Monday as my barrio procession, San Gonzalo and Nuestra Señora de la Salud, re-entered their temple after more than 12 hours pounding pavement.

 

Two Romeros pray to the Esperanza de #Triana before beginning the #ElRocio pilgrimage to La Aldea A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

Living in a neighborhood like mine means brass bands and religious processions happen as often as block parties (or they flat-out replace your block parties). Just before Pentecost Sunday, droves of romeros set out from TrianatowardsLaAldeaattheedgeoftheDoñana National Park, and I captured two on horseback in a moment of concentrated devotion.

 

For real, #Seville. Just STOP. #latergram #dusk #skyline #sevillahoy #seville

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

This is my commute from work during the summer months, and on my bike. Suck it, Chicago and your traffic on the Kennedy.

 

Boats on Elkhart Lake, #wisconsin #latergram #boats #elkhartlake A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

With the wedding looming, I broke my no-beer-before-boda rule to have a family outing to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for Road America. My dad and his two brothers, plus my sister, her fiancé, my cousin and his friend and I spent the weekend playing jokes on one another between beers and vintage car races. It was bittersweet knowing that this would be one of the last family trips we’d likely take for a while. But my dad paid his daughters a compliment: “You girls were so fun as kids, but you’re even more delightful to have around as adults.” No wonder I married someone who reminds me of my father!

 

I get to exchange I Do’s with this stud today! #halforange8815 A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

I posted this photo – taken at our rehearsal dinner the night before – as I was getting my hair done for my wedding. I woke up on August 8th calmer than I’d been in weeks and ready to exchange vows. Call me a romance sucker, but I felt beautiful, fortunate and ecstatic for 2:30pm. If only I remembered more of the wedding – it went SO FAST!  

We adopted Moxie from the Shih Tzu Rescue of Illinois in 2012 just after we put Morgan down. We knew he’d be with us for a short time given his senior canine status and health issues, but this photo reminds me of how happily he lived out his last years in his forever home before joining Morgita in Puppy Heaven at Thanksgiving.

That same day, my parents adopted Mox Box’s younger lookalike, Murphy. 

My 30th was more of an afterthought – the big day happened exactly one week after The Bigger Day. For the first time, the Novio and I spent both of our August birthdays together between Chicago and New Orleans, and we did so with my family and friends.  Miles may separate us, but the important people are always there for the important moments!

 

Saturday lunch: huevos rotos with chistorra. Bests what I made for lunch today! A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

The year of eating continued after the wedding, where watching what I ate mattered a lot less than ordering one more beer. This plate of huevos rotos was so beautiful, I made my friends wait to tuck in so I could take a picture and slap a filter on it.

 

Only *moderately* obsessed with my new mug from @mrwonderful and @lovelystreets. So fitting! A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

I bought this mug from Lovely Streets and was immediately enamored. I usually go for frivolous, but this mug actually does something else than look pretty – and it’s dishwasher friendly! You can check out their Lo que Me Enamora series for cities around the world at FNAC or online.

 

Oooh, #Zafra, you definitely are #charming. #typicalnonspanish A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

Overseas travel didn’t happen in the first half of 2015, but I made Spain travel a priority this year. Kelly and I left a stormy Sunday Seville in October for Extremadura, where showers were rumored to hold off for the day, and stumbled upon quaint Zafra.

We filled up on nun cookies and local wine in Plaza Chica, stopping at points of interest on the way back down south. You never know what’s in your backyard, they say.

My trip to Sicily in late October felt pretty off the beaten path, despite being part of Western Europe. Think no English, no road signs and no feelings of being comfortable. The Novio suggested I take the rental car to Villa Romana de Casale, an old Roman house with beautifully preserved mosaics. 

And the drive was just as romantically terrifying as could be expected for an untamed corner of Italy.  

 

Current obsession: the Danes and their beautiful capital city. It’s seriously a hip, gorgeous place!

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

I ended 2015 with a solo trip to Denmark. I was immediately enamored with the orderly, modern way that Danes live, along with their Christmas markets and hot dog stands. The trip left me in the hole, but one last hurrah for a big year seemed like a fitting way to end it.

Feels both foreign and fitting to be plan-less for once, but I’ll be snap happy when the azahar blooms and I settle in to married life – I carry memories on me like I do my phone, after all. 

MY 15 FAVORITE

Are you on instagram? I’d love to add you! Find more Spain, Europe and good eats from me by searching @sunshinesiestas

Five Things You Should Know About Málaga

Eight years ago, I welcomed my parents to Spain for the first time. They arrived to Málaga via bus after several cancelled flights and a mad scramble to get them from Heathrow to Andalucía before Christmas Eve. Once they finally arrived, jet lagged, smelly and not amused with my cry of ‘Bienvenidos a España!’ we grabbed our rental car and beelined out of the Costa del Sol’s capital and didn’t return.

We missed out on the opportunity to explore what is becoming a cultural capital and a city that embodies cool, and I have yet to really get to know more than Málaga’s airport.

9633703165_3039fd2105_z

Paolo Trabattoni via Creative Commons

Many visitors to the golden shores of Spain’s Costa del Sol choose to bypass Málaga in favor of the nearby beach resorts. It’s a shame – this vibrant city offers a great selection of cultural sights and historic gems, plus great dining options, all on the Mediterranean Coast. If you’re visiting for the first time, you may be surprised by these five facts about one of Spain’s up-and-coming cities.

Picasso’s Mark on the City

Arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century, Picasso remains one of Malaga’s most renowned citizens. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic center, visitors can explore the artist’s birthplace and family home during his formative years.

An exhibition displays artifacts from his childhood and personal mementos from his family. From here, art fanatics can visit the Picasso Museum located in the 16th century, Buenavista Palace. Showcasing over two hundred and thirty pieces, it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to marvel at some of Picasso’s best works. Plus, it’s just a stumble from great tapas joints (and we stayed at an awesome AirBnB nearby for my despedida de soltera!).

Feria de Málaga

I mean, it’s no Feria de Sevilla, but Málaga’s beachside feria is allegedly just as much fun (and without all of the pomp). The annual fair takes place in August and was established to commemorate the Catholic reconquest of the city in 1487. The weeklong celebration is the time to enjoy authentic Andalusian cuisine, marvel at the trajes de gitanas and take part in a sevillanas dance if you’re fueled by rebujito.

La Feria en Crisis

And it’s ok to go in street clothes – this fair is far more low-key than Seville’s, so you don’t have to put on the airs or sneak your way in to a private tent.

Antonio Banderas and his Devotion

Picasso isn’t the only famous malagueño: another notable native is Hollywood A-lister, Antonio Banderas. Born in 1960, the famous actor began his studies at the College of Dramatic Art in Malaga. Although he no longer resides in Spain, Banderas does return every year to celebrate the Holy Week festivities.

Taking place from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, Banderas joins in several of the processions as a costalero, or a brother charged with carrying the heavy floats through the streets of the city.

Biznagas Malagueñas

Spend a short time in Malaga and you’re sure to come across the handcrafted flowers, Biznagas Malagueñas. Traditional to the region, these are often sold by street vendors, known as biznagueros who are often dressed in an outfit comprising of a white shirt and red waistband.

The floral creations are famed for their sweet smelling scent, usually made with a combination of dried thistle and freshly picked jasmine. Many people are unaware that they have a secondary purpose – they’re also said to repel mosquitoes.

An endless summer

It may come as no surprise that the capital of Spain’s Costa Del Sol receives some of the best weather in Europe, and that it’s not limited to the summer months. With roughly 300 days of sunshine every year, this destination is perfect for a sun worshiper’s fall getaway. The winter also stays pleasantly warm with very few days of rain and highs reaching an impressive 20 °C. The vitamin C alone is worth it.

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Laura Flores used under the Creative Commons

With so many affordable flights to Malaga, there’s never been a better time to explore this beautiful city. From the winding streets and traditional tapas restaurants,  lively nightlife and 

Read more about Málaga: Cooking in the Malagueño Countryside // Ronda, the White Village Capital // Walking the Caminito del Rey near Málaga // Málaga’s El Tintero Restaurant

FIVE THINGS

I need a weekend escape to Málaga – what should I see, do and eat?

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