My husband and I set off on what was to be a really long-deserved holiday in Spain on the morning of Sunday, 23rd October 2011. The start was not the best, as I ended up being searched by airport security because some really cheap metal bracelets had set off the scanner alarm! When we arrived at Malaga airport, there was nobody manning the passport desk and we had to wait in a hot holding area for three-quarters of an hour before a staff member was located to come and do the job. Then because we had waited so long, he took cursory glances at our passports and waved us through in a hurry.
We had another long wait to collect our pre-booked, pre-paid rental car. Wish we had not bothered to pre-book the car, because the queue to the desk for new bookings was much, much shorter, and at times had nobody waiting! This turned out to be an even longer wait – one and a half hours in fact, and when we eventually had loaded up our luggage in the car and tried to shut the boot, the handle, lock and all, came off in my husband’s hand! Luckily he was able to clamp it back on with a hefty thump and off we drove.
Once we had got going from Malaga we started to relax a bit, even with driving on the right hand side of the road. We were staying at Club La Costa at Fuengirola on a self-catering basis, and were very happy indeed with our accommodation. The only downside was the hardness/firmness of the beds in Spain! I did think we may even gravitate to the lounge pullout bed for a softer option but put that idea aside because we soon got used to the beds, which surprisingly had a mid-week change of sheets, which was very nice.
Although we were self-catering and there were a number of little grocery shops around the complex where fresh milk, bread, groceries, fruit and veggies, etc could be purchased, we did take advantage of some restaurants on a few occasions, especially the Chinese take-away whose prawn dishes were superb – yum, my mouth just waters at the thought! There was plenty to do on the complex and in the surrounding area. Tours were arranged to various tourist attractions, including Gibraltar. However, on the Monday we were pretty much confined to quarters as there was a really big rainstorm which persisted all day long. Thank goodness for the free TV with Sky, provided in the apartment.
On Tuesday, and as we had rented a car, we decided we would drive down the coast at a leisurely pace to visit Gibraltar. We did not get very far before we came to a grinding halt due to a huge accident that had occurred about 500 metres in front of us. A large lorry had become wedged across the dual carriage highway and seven cars had ploughed into it. We sat there for about 45 minutes before we found out from an ambulance crew, that nobody had been seriously injured thank goodness, but the highway would be jammed for a very long time. Shortly after that conversation, a policeman drove past on his motorbike to assess the situation at the front. He returned and told us to turn around and drive the wrong way down the road we were on, and to take an off ramp, then a diversion through the housing estate to rejoin the highway at a point lower down beyond the accident. With trepidation and feeling we were not being very wise to do this, we ended up doing as instructed along, with all the other drivers! It was organised chaos for a bit but we took our turn at turning round to take the off ramp.
As a result of the time wasted, we eventually got to Estapona (about halfway towards Gibraltar) at about 1:30pm. On reflection over lunch on how far we had progressed on our journey, we decided to do the Gibraltar trip on Friday instead to make it worthwhile. We had an enjoyable meal at the MacDonald’s, left our car parked there, and took a meander down towards the beach. At that part of the coast, there is very little of what could be called a beach and the sea seemed to come right up to the houses at high tide. There was a light breeze that day, but we both thought with a full-blown storm and high winds, we would not fancy being in any of those homes at the beach front, especially at night. We continued into Estapona and had a look around the old town, which is surprisingly “English”.
On our return to Club La Costa, we walked around the complex which is amazingly large and has its own little “train” to transport residents from one point to another. There are also a number of swimming pools designated to residents in certain areas and only accessed by card key, which is rather nice from a security point of view, and personal items can be safely left while you take a dip in the pool. If it is not swimming weather, you can do some horse riding (with smaller ponies for the children), go to gym sessions, games nights, Bingo, or participate in the organised tours, etc. There are also child-minding services for the younger families to take advantage of.
We bought a few provisions from the superette (little greengrocers) on the complex and returned to our apartment to plan the rest of our stay. As an obligation, we needed to meet with the Club marketing team on Wednesday afternoon and we were requested not to go too far from base that day. With this in mind we decided to walk to the Sohail Castle in Fuengirola. We were a little disappointed in what it had to offer, as we had been led to believe that we may see some Roman ruins. Unfortunately this was not the case as the remnants of the Roman occupation at the fort had been boxed in so that seating could be arranged for audiences to view various operas and plays that were put on by the cultural society of the area. However, the Roman artefacts are in the Local History Museum and can be viewed there. A saving feature was that the views from the walls of the castle, were very pretty when looking northwards, up the coastline.
On Thursday, we drove up to Mijas a well-known tourist attraction, situated high above the Fuengirola valley. When we arrived we parked the car in the multi-storey car park, and then walked around much of the old town until lunch time at about 2:00pm. We wanted to try a genuine Spanish Paella for lunch at one of the local restaurants. Unfortunately it was not a great success. In fact, it was horrid. The rice was so salty it was inedible and the few little bits of meat were full of gristle, the “king” prawns were shrimps and the chicken wings were the lower third of the wing with very little flesh on them (with a few unplucked feathers still in place)!!! One lives and learns, I suppose. The English are often teased as being unadventurous when it comes to food, but I think we got a bad deal with that Paella. Next time, we will ask for a sample of the rice and ask to physically see and approve the ingredients, before buying paella again.
Once again the views, especially from the walls around the town, were marvellous and the little donkeys, horses and horse-drawn carriages were charming. There were so many shops with enticing wares just asking to be bought! I saw, but did not buy (and now wish I had), lovely little framed pictures of bougainvillea growing over a typical Spanish house, painted onto little mosaic tiles about one and a half inches square, making up the whole, framed picture. We did some more walking around the town and found some newer, more modern, and even international vendors down one of the many little alleys with the most wonderful jewellery, ornaments, etc but a bit out of our price range.
On Friday, we drove down to Gibraltar. Good advice is to leave one’s car in a parking lot long before you get to the Customs chekcpoint. This is because we snaked around in a queue for absolute miles before getting to Customs and this took a great big chunk out of our time. One quaint thing about Gibraltar is that visitors drive over the runway of the airport, which is unusual but well controlled by the authorities. When we got the car parked in a multi-storey car park (with many little shops), we decided to walk to the cable station and go to the top of the Rock. This is quite simple to do as we walked down the main street until its end and then easily found our way to the cable station. The taxi drivers are a bit of a nuisance at the bottom of the ride, trying to persuade you to take the trip up the mountain with them. I am so pleased we went in the cable car. On the journey up and at the top of the Rock, the views are spectacular.
We walked around the pathways at the top and of course saw the Barbary Apes that frequent the area. They are well fed by the staff in the wild life park, so there is no need for visitors to feed them. We were also requested to hide any plastic bags as the apes had become very clever at detecting things to grab from visitors, especially sweets and food packets. Luckily we had our knapsacks with us and stuffed everything we had bought, inside these. We had brilliant sunshine and wandered around quite freely. We entertained the thought of walking down the very long stairway to the bottom of the Rock but spoke to a young couple who said that they had only got halfway before heading for the halfway station of the cable car to complete their journey that way, so we wisely reconsidered.
Leaving the Rock was a lot simpler as the Customs seemed more relaxed about us returning to Spain. There were large numbers of motorbikes belonging to the students and young people who worked on the English side of Gibraltar and they were held back until the bulk of the motor cars had passed through the checkpoint before they were allowed to proceed. We surmised that motorbikes are cheap to run and easy to park, thus very popular with the young crowd. There is a wide selection of all sorts of shops in Gibraltar from the usual tourist outlets to really quite expensive shops such as M&S.
Saturday was a beautiful day and we decided to go on a long walk both up, then down the coast along the sandy beach. On the south part of the trip we saw a great many seashells and had great fun picking up some of the larger specimens. There is a promenade that runs alongside the main highway, but we found this noisy with too many exhaust fumes, and preferred the beach walk. We returned to the apartment and ordered in some dinner – you guessed it our favourite Chinese! We packed our cases ready for an early start the next day as we were driving to Benidorm for the next leg of our holiday, but then that’s another story!