Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Parque Natural de las Nieves / Tolox

The Natural Park of Las Nieves

Sierra de las Nieves nearby the village of TOLOX

In this post of our blog we try to give a description of a Natural Park situated east of the Ronda-Marbella road centering around its highest peak, Mount Torrecilla (1909 meters). There are a number of small villages like Tolox, Alozaina, Yunquera and El Burgo but otherwise the area is somewhat depopulated and therefore remain in a natural condition with an indigenous flora like pine, ash, chestnut, wild olive and oak trees as well as juniper. Having looked at the map we decided to enter the area by Tolox, a small village that could easily be reached from Fuengirola via Coin by route A366. More basic information of the area can be found in the  website.

Tolox is beautifully situated in the mountains.
A view from our hotel Cerro de Hijar.
Along route A355 towards Sierra de las Nieves.
TOLOX is a typical Andalucian white-washed small village with a limited population (2000+). It is said to bear a Phoenician name and it was occupied by Rome and later the Visigoths and Moors. When handed over to the catholic regime, according to Wikipedia, a large moorish peasant population stayed in the village and revolted in the 16th century against the christian landlords by throwing white powder on them.  Still today this is commemorated during the village carnival with the "Dia de los Polvos" when white powder is thrown at fellow citizens. We had the pleasure of having our son, Mathias, with his fiancée Anna joining us from our native Finland. This visit to Tolox was the first part of their week long visit to Andalucia. Unfortunately our daughter Ann-Sofie ("Affipuff") was not able to join us this time due to her busy schedule with her studies as she is finishing off her final thesis with a hurry. We missed her and hope to see her here very soon again. 

Hiking routes often follow mountain slopes.

Mathias in action.

This track was not difficult.

Our hotel was situated on the northern slopes above the village with a magnificent view over the mountains and the village itself. We checked-in and ordered a light lunch before setting off towards the 4 km long hiking track at Alto de la Cuesta - further up the hillside. Our "pretend-to-be" four wheel drive KIA took us up to the starting point where Mathias decided to climb the final stage to the very top in order to get a great shot over the whole area. Anna and I continued along the track that I had chalked out a few days earlier. Our time was limited due to the evening program so we had to limit our hike. The area had not had rain for some time so the drought affected the plants but we nevertheless could find interesting and for us unusual objects to photograph. The only animal / insect we could find in abundance was the dragon fly. Having said that, once we had reached Ronda, we spotted a number of eagles. Mrs. T counted up to 17 birds while the other team members watched in amazement.  The "pretend-to-be" four wheel drive KIA performed well (again) in the dusty and narrow road up the hill and back again but now the KIA needs a WASH!

Small palm trees among the pine trees.

The only animal / insect in abundance we could spot.

Do not forget to look up every now and then.
Mathias and Anna checking out the result of their work.

I decided to take with my macro lens in order to complement the nice landscape pictures we could take. Below some close-up objects that we identified and wanted to save in the camera's memory card. We then needed to return in order to experience the Andalucian hospitality of a private sauna bath with music of your choice and flashing "disco" lights. Just outside was a bubbling yacuzzi. We could all find place in the sauna but very soon the inventive Mrs. T  jumped out and grabbed her companion the pocket camera in order to use the video function on it. This video is yet to be released. If you are interested it is better consult the film director Mrs. T  about it. The three light weight team members could nicely fit in the yacuzzi but what happens when a moderately (!) overweight Mr. T jumps in? THE FLOOD IS ON! The body mass indeed pushed aside a fair amount of water on the terrass drenching Mrs. T´s bag and other things. Wonder what the villagers thought when the water mass hit their grounds down below? The CAVA we had, in sufficient amounts, was fantastic and created a lovely and relaxed feeling. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was a great evening with Mathias and Anna - thank you all.

The special light conditions in the mornings and evenings give opportunities for great shots. Below some to try to show you another side of Andalucia. The next day we continued our journey towards Ronda passing some of the villages I mentioned before. This road east of Ronda is fantastic and we had to stop several times to take pictures. We also had time to visit Puerto Banus but more about these events as well as the forthcoming trip to Morocco in the next blog spot(s).

Sunny spells in the evening.
A little later in the evening from our private "sauna party"
Early morning hours. GREAT shot by Mrs. T
View looking at a different direction.

What great two days with Mathias and Anna. Wish you, Ann-Sofie could have been with us!!!!!  Cheers!!!!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Pleasures of Everyday Life

In Between Excursions and Adventures, we enjoy Everyday Pleasures , too....

The white towns are one of our passions.


This new post in our blog is trying to give the reader some understanding of our everyday life in Andalucia, Spain starting October 2013. We have lived in Costa del Sol since June this year and enjoyed enormously our stay. Andalucia has rapidly become familiar to us and we cannot stop admiring the nature, the cultural life, the kind people and also e.g. excellent roads that are congested mainly near large cities. In fact some highways with toll are having difficulties because of low income and may be facing bankruptcy unless the government step in. Fuengirola has many advantages to offer; good train connections, a fantastic seaside parade,  cheap flights to/from Malaga, a central location, suitable climate, assistance from other immigrants if needed etc.

THE VILLAGE FIESTA in Fuengirola is organized annually in October when many things in the town stands still, but the FERIA is very busy until late at night. The Fiesta lasts for a week with program every day including bull fighting, concerts, amusement park, official ceremonies and parades. The Fiesta is held in honour of Nuestra Señora la Virgen del Rosario, patron of Fuengirola.

Due to our visit to CABO DE GATA in eastern Andalucia we had limited time for the Fiesta but did participate in one concert by José Manuel SOTO, a very popular singer of "rumba al corazon". The music was strong in rhythm so that even a stiff Finn simply do what everyone else was doing; clapping hands in various ways that you felt somehow followed the rhythm. Shifting legs in a dance like movement came into use at the end of the show. Our CD collections was replenished with two CD's. Another night we had booked for a symphony concert in the same place. The previous time we only just got a parking place and felt that this would happen again the following evening. Well, on a Saturday night (and at Fiesta time) YOU DO NOT find a parking place in the downtown area. We did not either and had to change our plans and choose to visit hotel Florida Spa where our barber and hairdresser Amador sings every Tuesday and Saturday evening. He was happy to see us coming. We had a gin tonic / Nestea, visited the dance floor and returned by around midnight. On the final day of the Fiesta we went to the bull ring to see a show with Andalucian horses and Flamenco. 

José Manuel SOTO on stage in Fuengirola

A lively audience that was easy to join.


Andalucian horses.

And a jumping pony

24.10.2013 A day in Morocco

Flag and Coat of Arms of Morocco

When our son Mathias and his fiancée Anna had decided to visit us there was a wish that we should visit Morocco, a short boat trip from Tarifa, Spain. We booked into an English group that really proved to be a Spanish-French-Finnish-Swedish-Russian-English group. Our guide from Fuengirola (Juan) was a veteran and spoke (fluently) all mentioned languages except Russian. Yes, also Finnish having studied in Helsinki and practiced his Finnish with his Finnish girl friend. He made sure we understood everything "Tuliko selväksi". Mrs. T had planned the very early morning departure by preparing a take-along breakfast. We got up in good spirit and made for the coach. First issue: stop at first cash dispensing machine to collect some cash (Mr. T's credit card had failed the tour operator) and pay for the trip. Second issue: Eat your breakfast to increase blood sugar values. Juan pointed out that he is well aware of the Finnish habit of buying MACCARA at the kioski. Third issue: Doze off to get energy for the day. Why then did my eyes feel so tired when we reached Tarifa?

FIRST SIGHTSEEING. Our tour guide swiftly moved us from the bus waiting in the harbor. The local guide was on time and we first moved through the new part of Tanger where we had arrived. If this was the new part what is then the old part like? We soon discovered this when the local guide (let´s call her Fatima) took us there. Fatima spoke several languages ..... and all of them at the same time. You only needed to pick the one you preferred. Mostly I preferred English. She only not knew the Town and its history well but she also knew everybody in the town .....especially the shop owners that wanted to sell us something. We had no real spending plans as this was just a day off to a more exotic environment completely new to Mathias, Anna and Mrs. T. BUT WE DID NOT REALLY KNOW BEFOREHAND THE MENTALITY OF A MOROCCAN SALES MAN. At one point we stopped and ALAS! CHAMEAU!  But before Mr. T was able to approach the camels for some pictures he was surrounded by local sales men all with "authentic-local-tings-to-sell-at-no-price". Only to discover that things in Medina was only a fraction of the price you had paid.

Mr. "Ali-Baba" on the left was our main supplier.


Fruits and vegetables

Fresh coriander

Mrs. T did not fancy this guy

A shop we passed

THEN LUNCH in a local restaurant (for tourists) that offered soup, shish kebab, couscous and mint tea off course. Nice lunch - no complaints whatsoever and music was local, too. After the lunch visit to MEDINA FOR SHOPPING. If the local sales men had not found us earlier they NOW did when we left the restaurant. And they stuck like flies, didn't they!!!!!  We where supposed to have some free time but all we did was to try to hush off "the flies".

Musicians at the restaurant

Mrs. T thoroughly enjoyed herself

A traditional restaurant (for tourists)

Our time ashore was ending. And so was whatever little money we had brought along. That had changed into a (very nice) table cloth, jewelry, clothing and hats, health products and....well you name it. We left for the ship and set off for Tarifa. All border checks had went without any huzzle but in Tarifa the frontier official decided to take a good look at MY passport. Must be my slight tan over the summer that made him check whether I was part of the Foreign League or Polisario or something similar.




Day excursions to Malaga, Mijas and Benalmadena

Malaga on a hazy day when the city was covered in a mist but the mountain tops anyway could be seen clearly.

We had a few more days together with Mathias and Anna and spent them according to their wishes. This meant shopping but also visiting the small nearby mountain villages and the butterfly house Mariposario as well as the falconry site on the mountains of Benalmadena. The early part of the week had been busy and interesting and we understand that the mountains had particularly impressed Mathias and Anna while Morocco was something of a cultural shock. We took the train to Malaga on Friday. Malaga is a large city with some 600.000 inhabitants (see our post on MALAGA) and as with all large cities the security can sometimes prove an issue - at least the potentiality is there. The trains from Torreblanca to Malaga carry a security guard as a standard service. This service is well visible and well equipped and maybe therefore seldom needed :)  The deterrence is obvious and preventive in a positive sence :)   Once in Malaga we could spot the normal police activity in the old town shopping area and other security elements both outside and inside of the shops that made our shopping relaxed. Well, putting jokes aside and speaking is NOT a problem in our opinion and we have never stumbled over this problem in any way.

Blue is not the standard colour for the Spanish police force. HDR technique adds some special flavor.
The Team on the streets of Malaga old town.......where next?
 Mathias "safeguarding" ladies shopping.

Shops close for SIESTA at 14.00 hours and re-open between 17-18.00 hours even in a busy town like Malaga. During the closing hours we decided to show Mathias and Anna a larger picture of Malaga by taking the HOP ON - HOP OFF sightseeing bus. We hopped on near the old town just to hop off again at Gibralfaro castle. After an hour or so we hopped on again and then hopped off at the same place where we had left. It was then lunch-time at a favorite restaurant before continuing with the shopping.

Siesta closes all shops at 14.00 hours
Gibralfaro castle. Mathias and Anna view the city from "the balcony".
Lunch at a favorite restaurant....gambas pil-pil, tapas, paella and alike.

Once finished with the lunch we continued with the shopping where we had left it. Mr. T needed some zink tablets from the pharmacy. These where not available from a pharmacy but we needed to visit a "homeopathy" shop around the corner that offered several kind of zink preparations. I do not like capsules so I chose a 10 mg tablet which is below daily recommended dose. This was a good alternative because I could try to reduce the dosage provided that the clinical response remains the same. A single patient (that's me) clinical "non-randomized study" is soon going to start.

Mrs. T having a relaxing moment during shopping tour.
Mr. T has time for some extra shots
Main shopping street is welcoming

We left Malaga fairly late in the evening. On the following day we showed Mathias and Anna a local shopping mall / market as we needed to stock up with any energy providing articles in the fridge. Mathias insisted on Pina Colada. I had to try the local Crema Catalana. Let´s not be misguided - we also bought some food stuff. We had earlier booked a table at a better restaurant in MIJAS, a very nice small mountain village just up the road from Fuengirola. Juan, whom we knew from before, kindly took our reservation for an outside terrace table with the best possible view. When we arrived he very politely asked if it is too windy outside and if so, he would have a nice table for us inside, too. The table cloths on the other tables on the terrace had turned upside down due to the wind so we opted for Juan´s polite suggestion.  Juan also showed us a room they reserve for weddings and WHAT A ROOM. See the enclosed picture.

"I give him all I can so why then is he stuck....."

Anna: A Lions donation is not supposed to run about....;)
Another well known attraction at Mijas attract loads of tourists.
Dinner at La Alcazaba. EXCELLENT service and food. Juan,  the head waiter and a great personality attends to Anna and Mathias.
If you have been looking for this facility you now have found it.

This Saturday evening offered us a chance for "fine dining" and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Juan and the rest of the staff including kitchen made it perfect. Menu?  Clams, Sea Brass in a salt bed, steaks.....and cava plus home made desserts. On Sunday we decided to visit Benalmadena and its Mariposario (butterfly house) that offered new photographic challenges. Butterflies fly freely and stop occasionally for you to try to get a decent picture of them. Sometimes you manage. The iguana verde was a new "amigo" also for Mrs. and Mr. T. He did not move an inch so we had all the time for taking pictures. Finally Mathias discovered the Telecabin system that take you up to the top of the local mountains. Up we went only to find that there where a lot of activities on the top including a falconry site that we had to visit. Mr. T knew what falcons are. Two of them had been sitting in his arms at Arcos de la Frontera (see separate post). BUT THESE BIRDS WHERE EAGLES. The Golden Eagle, The Blue Eagle, The Condor and others....they offered a fantastic show. When they where allowed to fly freely in the sky they made stunning diving performances. The Condors actually landed among the spectators and created a slight chaos....deliberate? I do think so!

A Condor watching for pray

Not a member of the Eagle family but huge in size anyway.

Not listed in Mariposario broschure

Attacus Atlas lives only for one week as is born without mouth and stomach.

Papilio Rumanzovia?

Iguana verde

Telecabins that took us up to the mountain top.

Mathias and Anna above Benalmadena.

This week together with you, Mathias and Anna, was a shear delight for us "old foreign crows" and we hope you feel likewise. We appreciate your interest in Andalucia and for taking the time for a shared experience. Now you know where we are and that there is more waiting for you.....maybe starting with Sierra Nevada. Ann-Sofie, how does this sound to you and when can we expect you again?