Bunny & Bearli catch some sun at the Alhambra.
In the 22 years I have lived outside of America my mom has come to visit me three times, all three of which while I was living in Switzerland, on this her third visit we made a purposeful trip to trace our Spanish roots. In a whirlwind mom arrived one day, we took a turn around Lugano gazing at the lake and the next day we flew off to Spain.
Spain seems to be our place for 2018, at least the first half. This visit in May was our third of the year. What started as a casual reconnaissance to see if it is a country we would be willing to live in, became a series of meaningful adventures. In January, you read about Seville and Malaga, where we celebrated our wedding anniversary on our first trip together to this amazing country. In March, Barcelona for an adventure that was a dream family holiday for me. Now, in May we returned to Andalusia, this time on a journey to trace my maternal roots, fulfilling a long time wish of my mother, to see where her grandfather was born – my Poppa whose kitchen I recalled in OFF Topic post this month, FOOD: How I (re)found my voice
To round out our party, Kenan joined us again from Denmark, his photos give life to this post. New feature, click here for a Quick list of places to eat and stay.
Arriving the day before us, he did some photographic hiking, where he caught the juxtaposition of this city perfectly.
We landed in Malaga in time to return to Mason Mariano, to be equally impressed as we were in January. We repeated the idea to stay in the bar area and sample various tapas, divine. A full on first meal in Spain for mom.
Photos feature the delights offered to us at Mason Mariano.
Next day we had a small tour of this lovely city, mainly a walk in the cathedral square complete with a Spanish breakfast at La Taberna del Obispo.
We passed this place a dozen times, and while it looked like a tourist trap, it wound up being the best breakfast we had the whole trip. Simple sammys’, jamon on lovely bread with terrific olive oil, egg dishes, and fabulous coffee.
Just after noon, we set out for Granada. Until just a week before we had been unable to get tickets for the Alhambra, and thanks to the advice of the proprietor of our Airbnb, we did get tickets and a guide. For this and many reasons we strongly suggest the place we stayed Apartamentos Mirador Alhambra. Lara and Pradip are amazing hosts, the location is ideal in the Albaicín, and the view from the rooftop is magic. Every morning I was up there for QiGong and meditation, and every evening we convened up there for a beverage and a recap of our day. We will return to Granada and this is the place we will stay.
The photo featured here in the middle is the view from the rooftop at the Mirador, the rest from inside the Alhambra itself, superstar Kenan.
A tip for Alhambra tickets. It is no longer possible to buy them the day of, and it is true that they are sold out up to 3-4 months in advance. What is also true, if there are no tickets for the date you are going to be in Granada, go to Granada anyway, it is beautiful and there are other things to do. PLUS, go to the official site every day, twice, and check your dates. Have the passport numbers, and full names of all the people in your party and be ready to purchase at any time. Each day, when tickets are “returned” they become available on this site. Buy the Alhambra general ticket for 14.00 Euros.
Then contact to be your guide, Cristina Pedrosa. If you are unable to get tickets, Cristina can as well take you on a tour of the areas where tickets are not required, specifically; The Palace of Charles V, the door of Wine, the door of Justice, the Church of the Alhambra, the hammam, the tombs of the Catholic Monarchs, the remains of the palace of the Abencerrajes, the UNESCO plaque, and the fountain of Washington Irving. Cristina did bilingual studies to Guide, with emphasis on Information and Tourist Assistance. Her information is spot on and she is kind and generous, mom was not feeling well that day and Cristina managed to maximize our tour and give mom the time to hang out and even a cool resting spot when we went a bit afar. Being a tourist guide in such a place could leave someone quite indifferent and harried, Cristina was calm, kind, and thorough, we highly recommend her.
With millions of photos of this UNESCO site available on the web, I offer you some personal touches thanks to Kenan.
Eating in Granada is not so obvious. It is teeming with places to eat, and equally teeming with tourists, a bit like Rome or Venice. Between references and our collective nose, we found a few places to suggest:
Trillo. One day we made our way up and up in the Albaicín and stumbled upon this gem of a place. We arrived around 16.30 and it was rocking with 2 parties, one of about 25 and another of 10 or so. Lively, laughing, fun. As well there were 3-4 tables of couples enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and view. The service was Spanish, unhurried and relaxed. The food was delicious, an excellent value. We sat nearly 2 hours and enjoyed enormously.
Puerta del carmen. Elegant dining with fine cuisine. Mom was a bit under the weather that day, and given the prices, she did pick the right day to not eat much. That said everything was delicious if not a bit pretentious and super rich. Bearli is pictured here with artichokes topped with foie gras! Bunny a bit under the weather herself (new hat a bit big and heavy, what we do for beauty), did enjoy the cevice despite her fatigue. Kenan had the fillet atop artichokes, you see the artichoke pattern here, and mom managed some grilled vegetables.
Los diamantes. A hopping tapas place, where one stands up and enjoys fried fish tapas was suggested by our hosts, and while we never got there, it looked like worth checking out and we will do so when we return.
Antigua Bodega Castaneda Super Spanish, stand up bustle, tapas and wine (+ vermouth). I stumbled upon this place while having an evening on my own and wow was I bowled over. Serious Spanish energy, buzzing like mad, with bartenders whizzing about 5 glasses at a time. It seemed that in Granada, you order a drink and a tapa comes with it, plus there is an extensive list of tapas to order from. Standing at the bar I had one of those blissful moments ofbeing exactly where I wanted to be in that exact moment, totally present to the chaos and life around me.
In general, the street behind the Plaza Nueva is an ethnic Pandora’s box, lovely at night with Syrian, Turkish, Pakistani, Persian, and Spanish fare on offer. The plaza itself is a great place for breakfast. While the churros and chocolate did not overwhelm me, nor the coffee, the atmosphere did. Sitting on the square we had a special treat; spectacular women clad in their flamenco gear prancing about in preparation for a special holiday. We gazed at them with our churros, taking photos only in our minds.
Left Kenan's new haircut.
Even if you cannot get tickets to the Alhambra, Granada in itself is an amazing place to visit. Wandering the streets up, down, and around full of sites, drenched in atmosphere, and Kenan even got a haircut, 14Euros and looking great.
From Granada we made our way to the reason for our entire trip, the birthplace of Poppa. A long road through vast open space, made popular as a location for spaghetti westerns complete with a sort of amusement park called Fort Bravo, we did not stop to visit.
We wondered as we snaked up the winding hills, how did Ralph Sorroche get to the seaport in Almeria in 1921? Did he walk, take a donkey, hitch a ride? We had a bit of fun with that and then we arrived, with our giant car to this speck of a town, Tahal. When I looked up this area of Almeria, I was amused to learn that it was used in Games of Thrones as the land of the Dothraki.
The entire town was at the city hall, a wedding or some such affair, and the only soul around was the proprietor of the bar/tienda. Claudio had himself a sammy while we wandered around the place. Even without a single soul to know who we were or who Ralph Sorroche was, mom was moved to tears to be where he was born.
Top center photo is Mom & I in Tahal May 2018, the rolling hills and vast space behind us inspired our discussion about how Ralph may have transported out. The bottom photo is Ralph, tall man on the right in the middle with the belt buckle and long face, 1920’s Pennsylvania. Top and middle left Mom in Tahal; bottom left Kenan in the playground there.
After our stroll, we joined Claudio and the barman, whom he had made fast friends with finding out what little he could about Ralph Sorroche in this town. We all had a sammy with a plate of homegrown tomatoes, mom bought a bottle of locally made olive oil (which after a traumatic journey now sits proudly on our shelf, Claudio having heroically saved it from its fate) and left feeling as if she had accomplished something. My heart beat with joy to see her so moved and happy, having realized a dream I previously did not even know she had.
From Tahal, we made our way to Almeria. My entire life when people ask me where my Spanish roots are from, I say Almeria, and now I was going to see this place I had so often invoked. In all honesty, I was not at first overly impressed, Almeria is an industrial sort of town with a beach a bit like the Barceloneta (though its sand is real) but rougher. We arrived with the standard get lost first time in a city with too big a car, and after the dual shocks of parking and the discovery that the place we were staying had no WIFI, we cleaned up and went out on the town. Instinctively we headed straight for the sea, and with a wildly whipping wind to accompany us, we managed to take some fabulous photos of the city “center”.
Mom had wings to express her joy and we all struck a pose in this place that now figured in our history and our present. From here we wandered on to discover some local eats, first with a drink on the main street, and then tapas at the recommended Puga, the peppers padron were delicious and mom had a plate of shrimps that were just what she wanted. Seemingly local, this place was full of tourists when we entered, packed with locals standing about inside and out when we left.
Next day after a good sleep-in to recover from all the emotion of the previous day, we set out to find breakfast. We found it, the second best we had on the trip (after Malaga), a local square with good coffee and tasty breakfast dishes, all including pineapple juice. Claudio found his café bonbon, and all were well fed before we set out on our next adventure.
The Alcazaba of Almeria, also featured in the Game of Thrones as the House of the Martell's (along with the Alcazar in Seville) is the exact opposite of the Alhambra in that it is free of charge, and mostly free to be wandered. Steep uphill climbs lead to the first section where one sees the Alcazaba from the perspective of a giant statue of San Cristóbal, where Kenan managed be the star of the photo vs his usual behind the lens. Inside the walls of the Alcazaba one enters a quiet, almost melancholy place where the imagination is necessary to conjure up what might have been in this fort of the moors. A dazzling dragonfly helped to bring to my mind the vast space of Kaunos the Lycian city above Dalyan (Turkey) where Kenan wandered freely as a child and is now as well a protected site for which one must pay to enter.
Walking about this Alcazaba was a wonderful solitary experience where we all went off in different directions at our own pace to explore the site, gaping at the views, and taking in the silence. Afterwards we took tea at the Almedina Baraka, a peaceful, welcoming, magical place. Following a visit to the Alcazaba, this is the perfect place to rest. The mint lemonade was divine, as well the walnut cookies. Most of all the warm, welcoming atmosphere was magic in Almeria. From here mom took a midday break and we went on to the “beach”. As mentioned Almeria is a bit industrial and it does have a beach, an entire strip with a boardwalk like atmosphere complete with cafes. After walking along a bit Kenan and I put our feet in the sea and then settled into a café with Claudio to have a beverage and a snack. One of the interesting things about this region, Andalusia, is the number of places where no alcohol is served (the Almedina for example) and subsequently the number of fruit juices and alternative beverages available. We partook of these here, and Claudio splashed out with a flaming chorizo, click to check video with this flaming sausage.
Almeria is not obviously full of places to eat and the places we managed were wholly enjoyable. After a short reconnaissance by Claudio and me, we discovered Entremares in town which was delightful, with generous portions, good wine, fair value for money, and most important mom got her paella and we got some delicious octopus.
After this we went to another place we had sussed out while Mom had her break and Kenan continued on the beach, the Tigre Ciego (Blind Tiger). A take on the speak easy of the 1920’s in America, this place was charming, had good music, and on this night, we had it all to ourselves bar one man who made himself Kenan’s best friend. Mom took a video and we got lots of laughs over our hijinks which rounded out our visit to Almeria.
Next morning after a quick breakfast at the local place around the corner, Claudio expertly navigated us out of a parking spot the size of a postage stamp and we were on our way back to Malaga. The coastal scenes I had hoped to see where partially there, and the greenhouses Claudio had promised us would blanket the entire region of Almeria did appear. Our arrival in Malaga was welcome, the parking at our accommodation was spacious, and we set off to enjoy a bit of Malaga again. Straight to the beach, revisiting the Malagueta, with the same delight and satisfaction as the times before. We sat for a long time enjoying the delicious food and uniquely tasty mojitos, lively atmosphere, and overall delight of being at the beach in Malaga. We meandered back to our flat, had a rest and a freshen up and off we went to explore and enjoy the evening life of Malaga. After a few near misses, we found our way to Los Gatos. This place manages to maintain itself even with its enormous popularity. Terrific food, dishes to manage all tastes - I was so fooded out I had giant salad slabs with delicious tuna, which also delighted Bunny, and was as satisfied as Claudio, Kenan, and Bearli who enjoyed giant plates of local cold/smoked meats. The table wine was tasty, the staff spirited, the atmosphere lively and the overall vibe terrific.
Kenan and I enjoyed some time hanging out after dinner and the next morning Mom and I went out on our own to do some shopping and have some coffee in two. Time flew and the next thing we knew it was time to head to the airport. Leaving Kenan behind in Malaga for another day, we parted with joy and sadness. During his time studying in Denmark we have had fantastic adventures in CH, Italy, and Spain together. Having Kenan with us on this trip was distinctly special as it meant mom got to meet him, thus sharing a part of my Turkey life which lives so deeply and importantly in my heart. That he shared another “family” vacation with us as official photographer, fun maker, and Zen master touched my heart profoundly.
Back in Lugano that evening, after the discovery of the messy fate of the Tahal olive oil, we settled in to have some quiet, easy time. Next day my book club ladies shared a delightful time with Mom in Eva’s extraordinary garden for a “tea party”.
Again, my heart was touched for the chance to share these special ladies in my life with mom. More than once I have said, I love my husband, the reason I came to Lugano, and it is the friendship, grace, and magic of these amazing women which made living here possible for me.
On Mom’s final day we went to my happy place, Como. Mom shares my love for this enchanting city, and we shared a wonderful walk on the lake and an easy walk about the old town, complete with lunch at one of my favorite places Numero Nove.
Pink bubbles are always good here and the spinach salad is a great item to have as a meal on your own or share as a starter. Anytime I have been here I have enjoyed it tremendously. The cherry on the cake was a stop at the Bennett on the way home where mom filled her cart with olive oil, Italian salami, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and some random items I cannot recall. A foodie for sure, her bag was 73 kilo by the time she filled it with all her booty! I know because I was at the airport with her when she checked in.
This trip with mom was extra special for all the reasons threaded into my recount here. Moments of tenderness, healing, and even displeasure underline each word and photo with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to share this trip in our personal constellation. One of the joys of the Bunny Chronicles is the chance to record and share these moments, to express my joy and love in words, photos, and all the subtleties they allow.