Friday, March 6, 2009


I just got back from my trip with Chad to Malaga, Spain, and northern Morocco. It was amazing, and I enthusiastically suggest that everyone consider both places as travel destinations.
I have never been terribly interested in Spain. It was never on my list of places I wanted to visit. But Chad's friend Chris is studying in Malaga, and many airlines run cheap flights there from London, so we figured it would work as a destination for our Reading Week. Mostly, though, we wanted to use it as a jumping-off point for a tour of Morocco.
I was, then, pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked Malaga. Although I don't know any Spanish, my French worked pretty well to help me translate street signs and the more basic spoken Spanish.
I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, February 25. Chad and I left the University Village at 4:30 to catch our 5:10 train to London. We pulled into London Stratford at a quarter past 7 and took the Tube down to London Bridge, where we boarded a train down to Gatwick Airport. Check-in was easy, since we didn't have to check any bags. Then we went through security, which was surprisingly quick, and waited for our 10:50 flight. I was tired and a bit cranky.
Our flight landed sometime after 2pm Spanish time (GMT+1). After getting off the plane, bothering with customs and passport control, etc., we finally got on a bus and headed into the city to find our hostel. Which was fun, since we didn't speak Spanish or know where we were going. But the directions said "Take bus 19," so we did. And we actually got off at the right stop.
The hostel was pretty cool. A big open living room with couches and a flatscreen TV. Two computers for guests to use. A dining area and a kitchen. Free breakfast in the mornings and free pasta for you to make in the kitchen. Clean sheets and down comforters. Ten euros a night. We slept in an 8-person mixed dorm with four sets of bunk beds and lockers to store our valuables in. I can't say we got to know our dormmates terribly well, but we did talk a bit to a guy named Daniel, an Aussie who had come to Malaga to find a job, even though he only knew limited (South American) Spanish. There were a couple other people in the dorm, but we didn't really get to know them.
I was starving, so I availed myself of the free pasta. Then Chad and I caught a bus into the city centre. The sun was out and shining, which was a major departure from the gloomy, misty weather we had been enjoying in Norwich. It was still a tad chilly, especially due to the wind blowing off the Mediterranean Sea, but overall the weather in Malaga was pleasant. Our bus took us to the Avenida Principal, the main route in the city centre, right on the water. We got off and looked around, took lots of pictures. First we had to find the Catedral de Malaga, since we would be leaving from it for our tour of Morocco later in the weekend, and we wanted to be familiar with it. It wasn't hard to find.
It's a beautiful cathedral, but strangely constructed and entirely unfinished. Only one tower was ever completed, and the cathedral is oddly round. My guess is to utilize the foundations of the mosque it's build on top of.
Since it was Ash Wednesday, the cathedral wasn't open to tourists, so we just hung around in the gardens outside, sitting by the fountains underneath orange trees. Life is just so hard.
We continued to explore the city, coming across various city landmarks like the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Plaza de la Merced, the Alcazaba and the Teatro Romano, various smaller churches, etc. We walked down one main street that followed the dried-up river. I stopped to admire some adorable bunnies in a pet shop window before we realized we were probably going to get lost if we went any further, so we headed back toward the cathedral. We doubled back through some of our earlier stops, resting int Plaza de la Merced to take pictures with the statue of Pablo Picasso (born in Malaga). I must have been a pretty miserable travel companion at this point, because I was hungry and exhausted, having been up since 4am. But I really shouldn't complain, because Chad hadn't gone to bed at all, and he hadn't eaten since 2am that morning. I don't know how he does it.
We were supposed to meet Chad's friend Chris at the cathedral at 8pm. Chad had left him a message on Facebook, but that was our only means of communication. We later learned that Chris's Spanish phone doesn't accept international calls, which is why he never responded to our attempts to contact him while we were walking around. Oops. We waited until about 10 past 8, and then left to find dinner. It turns out that Chris showed up five minutes later and waited around for almost two hours.
Chad and I walked around until we finally settled on a cafe/pub that served fantastic pizza. And I think it was legitimately good and not just something that my food-starved brain was telling me. We stayed for a while watching our waitress take shots of tequilla with two guys at the bar, but I started spacing out pretty badly and was very quiet. So we got on a bus that went back to the Avenida de la Paloma, near our hotel. Except that we had previously come to it from the other direction and weren't sure what to look for. Thankfully I spotted the landmark Supercor grocery store and we made it back alive. It wasn't late-- maybe only 10:30 or so--but we were certainly asleep before midnight, along with the rest of the people in our room, which I found strange.
I woke up blissfully rested about 11 hours later. We ate breakfast and then headed out to explore the Ciudad Historica once more. We went back to the Catedral, walked around. We met Chris, finally, and walked down the Calle Larios, one of the main streets though the old town where all the street performers hang out. There we ran into Mark Aldrich, the director of the Malaga Program, who suggested an excellent cafe in the Plaza de la Merced for lunch. After lunch, Chris left for class.
Chad and I went over to the old Roman ampitheatre, the Teatro Romano, which is being excivated right beneath the Alcazaba fortress. We sat in the Teatro for over an hour, just talking and taking pictures, enjoying the lovely weather. Then we got tickets to the Alcazaba (60 cents with a student discount!) and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the walls and gardens of the beautiful 11th century Moorish fortress.
We left the Alcazaba when it closed around 5. We still had a couple of hours to kill before we met Chris for dinner, so we went the Parque by the coast, sat by a fountain, talked, walked around some more, looked at statues. Nothing terribly exciting. Then I wanted to go back to Plaza de la Constitucion to take a picture of the giant Spanish flag that flew in the center. Around a quarter to 7 we returned to our meeting place, the Catedral, to wait for Chris. And we waited. Maybe he was on the other side of the cathedral, we thought, so we walked around it. Then we waited. Maybe we missed him on the other side. So we walked back. We must have circumnavigated the Catedral three times before we finally ran into Chris about 45 minutes later. He had missed us on one of our tours around the Catedral, and had gone back to the Teatro Romano, which had earlier been discussed as a possible meeting place. But we did eventually meet up and we went to this cafe in a part of town that Chad and I had somehow missed on our wanders. Once again, the food was excellent. We ate very well in Malaga. At this point, however, it was getting cold (for me, anyway) and so when we sat down at a bar by the Teatro Romano 2o minutes later I was warming my hands over the tea candle in the middle of the table. I ordered a Baileys and hot chocolate (It's delicious. You should try it), and we sat talking for a while.
Chad and I needed to go to an ATM before we headed out for Morocco the next day, since we had to pay on the bus and neither of us had enough cash on us. I had tried to use an ATM earlier in the day, but, after entering my PIN and choosing my withdrawl amount, it said there was some fault and I should contact my bank. This sort of freaked me out, because I'm neurotic when it comes to money, and I had not anticipated not being able to use an ATM in Spain. So we walked down to an ATM that Chris swore had worked for him in the past. It wouldn't work for Chad or me. At first even Chris had trouble withdrawing money, but after several attempts he took out enough for the both of us and said we could pay him back whenever. Thank you, Chris. You're a life-saver. Eventually Chad's card worked, so he took out a bit extra. In the end, it all worked out.
Then we returned to the bar near the Teatro Romano to meet Chris's friends Kennon and Xochitl, two fellow Dickinsonians in Malaga. Thanks to the Baileys and the adrenaline, I wasn't cold anymore, so I sat outside and ate gummy bears and peanuts while everyone else had a drink.
I'm not sure how, but by this time it was past midnight. We got the night bus back to our hostel, with me paranoidly checking for landmarks, since the bus took a route we'd never seen before. Chad spotted the Supercor, though, so we got off at the next stop and walked three blocks back to the hostel. Our Aussie friend Daniel tried to convince us to go out to a bar with him and some other people from the hostel, but we were tired and wanted to save money, so we declined the invitation and went to bed.
We woke up around 11 on Friday morning. We ate breakfast, checked out, and went back into the city centre to hang out until 3:30, when we had to meet our bus to Morocco at the Catedral. By this point we had seen a good portion of what there is to see in the city centre. We walked up the Calle Larios again, stopping to watch a juggler and some other street performers. We sat in the Plaza de la Constitucion for a long time, just talking and watching small Spanish children kick around a football. Oh, and everyone in Malaga has a tiny dog, so we would watch them, too. Then we decided to see the inside of the Catedral, which is supposedly very beautiful, but it had been closed the last few times we had wanted to see. We got to the visitors entrance, only to discover that it cost 4 euro to get in, so we sat in the gardens again until 3, when we went to where tour buses meet. We had heard that some Dickinson students in Malaga who had wanted to take same tour the previous weekend had received an email that the tour was cancelled due to lack of interest, so we were terrified that the bus wouldn't come. But, after a couple of minutes, we heard the familiar sound of American college students coming around the corner. I asked them if they were waiting for the StudyTravel tour, and they said yes. So we waited. The bus came at 3:30, we borded and set off on the road to Morocco!

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