Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Villa, The Monkey, and The Christmas Crapper

      For the holidays we decided to take a break from our freezing apartment in Athens and do it right on Spain's Costa del Sol. After spending a night and many hours walking along the beaches of Malaga, we met up with the Stirn clan (Nancy, Kelly, & Will (& Will's friend Greg)), hopped in the rental car, and drove along the coast to the village of San Pedro. While in San Pedro, we decided to do as the many other vacationers do and rent a villa near the beach. This was so much nicer than a hotel as we didn't feel cramped, could cook for ourselves, and hang out together in a real house instead of a hotel room. 

Just down the road from our villa was the Mediterranean and the mountains of Morocco off in the distance. Although the weather wasn't balmy, it was certainly warmer than the marble buildings of Greece! 

Our first meal in Spain was that of the classic Paella. These dishes are HUGE! While it was pretty tasty we found plenty of other dishes that we liked just a tad more. The Gambas al Pilpil (shrimp boiled/fried in garlic and olive oil), Gazpacho, and cured hams quickly ascended our 'Best Of' list.

The great thing about renting a car is we had easy access to many amazing places along the coast and a bit inland. Our first Spanish road trip led us to the mountain village of Ronda. Ronda was placed delicately on top of giant cliffs by Scipio Africanus during the 2nd Punic War and has continuously played an important role in aiding the defense of the locals. 

More recently, Ronda has become famous (and infamous) for hosting yearly bullfights. Whereas this sport has been outlawed in many parts of Spain, it still plays a vibrant role in Ronda's culture. Though the last fight was months behind, we could still see many streaks of blood in the orange sand.

Next road trip was back to Malaga, the largest city in the area. Here we feasted on more delicious tapas, visited some incredible churches, and hunted for the mythical crapper.

Our search began here, at Malaga's Christmas Market, where thousands of nativity figures are sold. Surprisingly, it didn't take long to track down our target as the Christmas Crapper was being sold everywhere! And what is the Christmas Crapper you might ask?
Well... this...

In every nativity scene in Southern Spain lives a crapper, that is, somebody laying a curler under a bridge, behind a donkey, or next to little baby Jesus. Most common is the crapper pictured above. However, some stalls cell caricatures of crappers such as Darth Vader, Princess Kate, Obama, and the Dali Lama. To our delight, these little guys also come molded in chocolate!

After spending a bit of time crapper shopping, we hit downtown Malaga for sangria, chocolate, and churros. 

The final road trip led us to the bizarre British owned (colony) strip of Gibraltar. Though this place is a hub for history and culture, most important to us was the rumor of monkeys on top of the fabled Rock of Gibraltar. 

As soon as we arrived we found them everywhere! 
Some were too cool for us-

Whereas others couldn't get enough!

From the summit of the rock we got a fantastic view across the straight to Morocco!

After spending a week lounging on the beach, eating, and drinking, it was time to move on, and do exactly the same thing (minus the beach) in Barcelona. We stayed near the famous shopping street of La Rambla and were within short distance of Gaudi's park and Basillica.

After taking the elevator all the way up, the only way to get down was a dizzying spiral of stairs! 

Overall, Spain really surprised us with great food, beautiful cities, and just a great vibe! After half a week of wandering the Gothic streets and alleys of Barcelona it was time for us to split up. Rebecca headed back to the village on Corfu, and we stayed in Barcelona for Christmas and then moved up to Paris for a few days. 

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