So the world is weird right now. Some countries are open, some require a vaccine, some require a PCR test, some require a quarantine. And of course it’s all subject to change at any given moment. So, in an effort to abide by the regulations while keeping ourselves safe, we planned a trip along the southern coast of Spain. And, because I love new experiences, we incorporated three new places – Gibraltar, Andorra, and Monaco!
We started our trip in Malaga, Spain. But before we got to Malaga, Tony and I had to travel through Amsterdam. We had an eight hour layover because, well, because it was $600 cheaper. There was an earlier flight to Malaga that my sister Natalie was on, and I’ll tell you what, I tried my damndest to get on that flight. I think I talked to every lounge worker, gate agent, and KLM airport worker in that terminal of the airport. It just couldn’t be done, so we waited the painful eight hours and arrived in Malaga at about 7 pm.
Since we were driving the coast, we got a rental car right at the airport. We would be meeting Julie and Natalie, my sisters, so we opted for a mid-sized SUV. We took a look, thought it would work, and we were on our way. Now, in Europe, most vehicles are manual. And while I’m sure I could drive a manual if I wanted to, I’ve never had the proper training so I passed over the wheel to Tony who grew up driving a manual.
Things were going well until we got into Malaga to park the car. Most of the parking ramps in Spain are underground…and incredibly tight. Our mid-sized SUV felt like a school bus compared to the compact cars. The ceiling felt like it was inches away from removing the top of our car, and the parking spaces were most definitely not meant for a vehicle of this size. We made it work though, but knew this would be an ongoing challenge for the rest of the trip. So much so, that Julie would take over parking the car while Tony and Natalie would direct from outside the vehicle.
Once we were able to park, we took the elevator up and as I was getting oriented with the street and where our AirBNB was, I heard Julie and saw her running towards us. Just a half block way, she and Natalie had a table ready with cheese and sangria. Ah, what a way to start the trip!
Malaga is seriously an amazing little city. I can see myself retiring there someday and most definitely could have spent my entire holiday there. The streets were walkable and every corner had a new row of outdoor restaurants and cafes. The town was incredibly clean, to a point where each morning workers would hose off the streets to keep things tidy.
We spent our time here eating and drinking. We visited the Picaso museum and Picaso’s home (he grew up in Spain)! In the evening, we strolled along the streets taking in the smells and tastes of so many Spaniard foods. One evening, we made sure to visit a local restaurant where the traditional Spanish dance – Flamenco – was performed. This is a dance usually done with just two people where the woman is the star. It’s a lovely dance and the restaurant we were in was small, quaint, and cozy. It was full of energetic and fun people, and was probably the most COVID-risky thing we did the entire trip. We are always cautious to avoid crowds and being too close to people in a confined area. After all, we had to have a negative PCR test to get back to The States; it just wasn’t worth getting stuck.
Before we left Malaga, we made a day trip to Gibraltar. Tony was driving, of course, and had to go up two very steep ramps to get out of the parking garage in Malaga. On the first one, he was almost to the top when he had to stop because there were cars crossing in front of him. He did whatever-it-is-you-do when you drive a manual to get it to stop on the steep incline. I’ve heard of manual vehicles stalling out on big hills, so I was worried this would happen and we would roll backwards, crashing into parked cars and ultimately a cement wall. And then it happened. A loud beeping and flashing coming from the dashboard. “Please cool your clutch.” The smell of burning rubber was unbearable. Julie and Natalie were in the backseat trying to tell him how to handle this and I was in the front debating about how to escape the vehicle. After all, it had been several years since Tony had driven a manual. And all the while, he’s waving people on to go ahead and pass him. We made it out, and to this day Tony still says ‘It was totally normal…’
Gibraltar is on the very southern tip of Spain and about an hour and a half drive from Malaga. It’s a UK territory, so we did have to pass through immigration, although there were no specific COVID requirements.
Gibraltar is only nine miles from Africa, and we were able to see the mountains in Morracco. It is also famous for the Gibraltar rock (so original) which we took a tram up to see. It was, unfortunately, very cold and rainy that day, so our visit to the top was short. It should be noted though that the rock is the logo for Prudential Insurance!
The next day we made the same journey in and out of the parking garage in Malaga. This time, though, we had all of our luggage, and it only took about 10 minutes to realize that we couldn’t spend ten days driving the coast with our vehicle as loaded up as it was. Our first stop was the airport to trade our mid-sized SUV in for a large-sized SUV. We opted for an automatic this time. I just couldn’t bear to have our clutch on fire again!! I tell you what, while the car was something we had to have for a trip like this, it was definitely a headache. We don’t regret it as we got to see so much of the countryside, but having it in each of the cities was definitely work.
Once we were able to settle everything with the car – two hours later – we were on our way t o Cartegena. It was about a three-hour drive and some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Mountains on the left and a coastline on the right, speckled with stone white homes. The roads were winding but comfortable and smooth. Tony loves his Spanish music, and he cranked it up loud. We all got a little ‘Spanish music history’ lesson on that drive.
We snacked on nuts, dried fruit, and Bueno candybars. If you’ve never had a Bueno, you need to get one soon. They can be found in most US grocery stores. They are light, made of chocolate and hazelnut, and they are everywhere in Spain. I don’t think a day went by that we didn’t each have at least one Bueno. It was a commodity for our roadtrip.
Cartegena is a small little town along coast, halfway between Malaga and Valencia. We had planned to spend two nights here. It was a relaxing time. We visited an ancient Roman theater that was under renovation. We walked along the marina and saw the large yachts coming in. We had patatas bravos and sangria (another commodity on a trip and very famous Spaniard foods). It was here that we also had churros and paella. The churros were fried bread that you dip in chocolate fondue sauce. I am not a big sweets person, so while they were tasty, they were not my favorite. Paella is a common Spaniard food. It’s traditionally made of rice and seafood in a big skillet. It most commonly comes served in the skillet with enough for two or more people. Natalie and I opted to be adventurous and went for it. Note that Natalie never eats seafood and I usually only eat fish. The paella was delicious! It had mussels, and squid, and shrimp, and a few other types of seafood. We dug in, tried it all, and I don’t regret it.
It was in Cartegena that I bought a puffy coat. As we were moving farther north on the coast, the temperatures were dropping. It was becoming evident that I wouldn’t be comfortable without something warmer, so we roamed along the street where the shopping was and found a decent coat for about 20 euros, money well spent.