The Mandolin Players of Málaga

We’d been for a good meal with good wine in a cheerful local tapas bar. Now we were mooching contentedly round town, remarking on the fact that here we were, without coats, scarves and gloves, watching people enjoying themselves at outdoor tables in early March.

Music? Is that music? Oh yes, over there at that bar.

We were in one of the biggest open spaces in town, Plaza de la Constitución, and there at Café Central, seated at several pushed-together tables were about fifteen men with fifteen mandolins (or similar. We’re not experts), a double bass and a bit of percussion, making music.

They strummed. They sang. They joked and laughed. They were there to enjoy making music together. As an appreciative crowd gathered, they sometimes got us to join in too. Thank goodness for Guantanamera. Everyone knows that one.

Someone in the crowd bought them a round of drinks. We all cheered and clapped. Fifteen men of a certain age had made a pleasant evening special.

I bet they’ll be there next week. Same time, same place.

Botany and a bus ride

It seemed to be a long time before we found the right bus going at the right time to a terminus in the right place – beyond Málaga’s city limits. But we got there. La Concepción Historical-Botanical Gardens.

We quite enjoyed hiking round its Mediterranean landscapes, and visiting a desert-scape of giant and vicious looking cacti. We took a long forest walk with spacious mountain views one way, and a panorama of Málaga the other … and sadly, the motorway grumbling and roaring only just below. We agreed the place was lovely, worth exploring… but just a little under-loved and under-resourced.

We had lunch outside in the sunshine, and thought we might go home.

Thank goodness we didn’t. We had circled the outer edges of the gardens and failed to explore its heart. Here were subtropical glades, bamboo forest, tumbling jungle waterfalls. Shady, mysterious, quiet and only disturbed by birdsong.

Two Country Mice had a very enjoyable day.

A Spanish candidate for Jo’s Monday Walk. It’s Thursday but never mind.

Jo’s Monday walk

Con Happy End

It’s about to rain. But it’s been a good day. A favourite breakfast followed by a walk round Málaga’s 1000 year old port.

Then we found ourselves being unexpectedly tested: a walk high above Málaga, on a steep winding path taking us up 430 feet to the Gibralfaro castle. It’s a 14th century edifice, but once upon a time, in Phoenician-Punic times, this site was used for watching over the town, and the ships sailing in. So we did that too.

After that, to mop up the rest of the morning, we explored the market.

We’d earned our lunch. So we did what we always do. Watched where the workmen go. They have a nose for the simple establishments that cook good traditional food just like grandma makes, and at a good price. My fish couldn’t have been fresher.

And here’s what we spotted on the way home.

Goodbye Córdoba – hello Málaga

Córdoba, seen from the Torre del Calahorra, and looking across the Guadalquivir.

The thing is, we lost our hearts to Córdoba. It’s drenched in history from the Romans onwards. Even the bus station is an archaeological site. We stayed in a pleasantly ordinary part of town, only ten minutes from the old historic centre, but with not a tourist in sight. Our hostess, who’s lived in the city all her life, wanted us to love the place as much as she does. Apart from tourist tips, she told us how to get the best from her ‘patch’, explained where the locals ate, and generally wanted us to feel at home.

Here in Málaga we’ve ended up in a zone full of holiday apartments – yes, I know we’re part of the problem. It’s a part of town that’s achingly hip, self-consciously shabby-chic, and doesn’t seem to cater for every day shopping needs like bread and fruit. It reminds us that we are in fact tourists.

Still, let’s not complain. First world problems and all that. Here are a few shots to show that there will actually be plenty to discover and enjoy in our final few days.

Los Patios de San Basilio

We travelled to the 13th century today. We went to whitewashed houses, organised Arab style around central courtyards, ranged along – for the period – wide streets, designed to accommodate wheeled traffic. These were houses at one time lived in by crossbowmen and their families, ready to defend Córdoba as and when. Before that Jewish converts lived there, and later, Catholic working families.

What pleasant houses! Just right for a modern family! No, not so. These houses accommodated up to ten families, one to each room. Maybe a hundred people then….

Each house had a well. Each house had three or so small shared kitchens. Each house had a laundry room. And each house decorated its courtyard with flowers. I suggested that this was a modern idea, but was assured that the evidence is that these houses were always bright with cheerful blooms – the women’s job.

We visited several houses, all different. Here are some housekeeping tips.

Look. These are unglazed jugs. Water gradually drips from the top ones to the layer below, then the layer below that. At each stage the water becomes purer and cooler. Drink from the lowest jug.

Here are cobbles from a fairly affluent household. These are river stones, and arranged like this so that on the rare occasions that it rains, your feet will stay dry.

These overcrowded houses can’t have been as pleasant as they seem now. But given the choice between one of them and a tenement in Manchester during England’s Industrial Revolution, I know what I’d choose.


My recent blog posts have been a bit of a guide book. Perhaps I should be working for Lonely Planet.

Let’s get back to basics. Food.

We’ve been beginning the day as the Spanish do. In a coffee shop. Emily’s boyfriend wouldn’t consider eating breakfast at home, and neither do we. A huge glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Maybe a roll, with jamon, or cheese, or sobrasada (a Mallorcan spreading sausage) or simply olive oil, then lightly toasted. Coffee, obviously.

Our favourite camareros from Los Siete Gatos in Granada.

It’s hard to resist tapas later on. Order a drink, and you’ll be served with a tapa too. Olives maybe, or patatas bravas. You may get a choice. Maybe not. It’s easy to knock up enough food for a light meal by ordering another drink.

A busy tapas bar.

We’ve been struck by the difference between the food in Granada and that in Córdoba. Granada celebrates making delicious treats out of very little: patatas a lo pobre – potatoes with onions and peppers. Migas – fried stale breadcrumbs with peppers, onion, garlic and fatty bacon. Both simple. Both good.

Both cities celebrate the pig and lamb in many forms: lots of piggy sausage dishes. Lots of chick peas too.

Córdoba pushes you in the direction of berenjenas – aubergine slices deep fried in batter and drizzled in honey. Every restaurant here has an oxtail dish, and is proud to tell you that the city is a foodie capital.

Berenjenas con miel.

Every shopping street has a selection of independent greengrocers. Just as well. After all that stomach-lining food, a piece or two of fruit is more than welcome.

Ragtag Saturday: a Temple, a Church, a Mosque, then a Church…

The Mezquita in Córdoba. It’s been a religious site since before recorded history. Ancient gods were worshipped here. Then the Visigoths came and built a church. Then, round about the 7th century, Christians and Muslims agreed to share this space, until the site was bought by Emir Abd al-Rahman in 784. This was the beginning of the vast place of worship we visited today.

When Córdoba was conquered for Christianity in 1236, the mosque became a Catholic cathedral. But it’s basically a gracious, imposing and immense Arab building with unsatisfactory Christian icing. To walk through the forest of Moorish columns, gazing upwards at Gothic ceilings is a slightly strange experience.

Spanish Muslims are petitioning for the right to worship here once more. With the Mezquita’s long-established history of shared worship and borrowed architecture, I hope they succeed.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge though, is ‘irridescence’. Let me show you a few irridescent details.