Days 3678-3707, 14 Apr-13 May 2022, Fuengirola Once More
Spain! Old pal, old buddy, old friend! So we had a cracking flight from Zagreb to Lisbon. Superb! Perfecto! Magnifique! Despite being a very grumbly madam at Zagreb airport due to no access to the Business Class lounge (even grumpier than the Lounge Lizard gatekeeper at the lounge… if that's possible…) It was worth being starving and dying of thirst for the flight. Which was smashing. Champagne… nuts… more champagne… entree of smoked salmon on pumpernickel with radish mayo followed by steak with a mushroom and rosemary sauce and potato gratin… then chocolate and coffee mousse and coffee… and some port. And some more port. Heck, if you can't go crazy on port on the airline of Portugal, when can you?
We were as happy as clams when we landed on time in Lisbon and jumped on the bus to the terminal (Row 1 meant first off the plane and first onto the bus… which meant seats. Just because we've been sitting down for 3 hours and 40 minutes, didn't mean we had any urge to be hanging off a pole for the drive to the terminal). Off the bus, into the terminal, through transfer security and into the Schengen terminal - pretty sure passports got stamped in there too (but refer to information about champagne, red wine, port, more port etc). We trundled off to the Lisbon lounge where we were warmly welcomed and immediately set up camp in the dining area in order to sample some more delicious delights. Excellent bartenders made a couple of stunning cocktails for us and we eventually settled into a quiet zone for a rest and feets up until our 8.30 pm connecting flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Malaga, Spain (we'd been up since 5 am - it was a long day - and we hoped to be at our Spanish Airbnb by midnight).
All was going swimmingly until our flight's display changed from 'Gate at 7.30 pm' to 'Info at 7.30 pm'. The phone pinged with a flight update eventually… and the update read 'Cancelled'. Say what? In almost 20 years of travelling and 12 years of 'hard core' travelling - this has only happened once before. So we shot down to the TAP Portugal changes desk and within 10 minutes or so a harried airline staffer herded us together to go to another gate to get new boarding passes for the following day, meal vouchers (admittedly more use to the passengers who hadn't been in the lounge for 4 hours), hotel vouchers and advice to be at a meeting place for the coach to the hotel at 9.30 pm. This was at 8 pm. Seriously… can't we just go now? Apparently the delay was to ensure everyone got their vouchers, had time to spend them and then could make their way to the coach and onwards to the hotel. Eventually. Turns out a €10 voucher goes a decent way at Lisbon airport… we grabbed some eats since TAP was paying and splurged €14 on an Uber to get us to the hotel immediately.
It was an unexpected night in a 5 star hotel in Lisbon (The Corinthia) and such a truly beautiful hotel we (almost) wish we were there a couple of nights - we would have used the pool! Unfortunately there was not a huge amount of communication… Here's your new boarding pass, you'll be told tonight when the bus to the airport will be ready for you (flight at 8.30 am the next day… hotel breakfast is included… but doesn't start til 7 am… airport is 20 minutes away… security… yikes…) so we lay half awake (albeit in comfort) seemingly most of the night waiting for an update on the early flight… Well at 5 am it became a moot point when the phone pinged and our 8.30 am flight was also cancelled. The next message on the phone said you're now on the 7.30 am tomorrow… So we figured quick… check in before it disappears too - by the time we did that having spent a pointless hour on hold with TAP… we were changed onto the midday flight that day and it was time to partake of the stunning hotel breakfast and then head back to Lisbon airport. Deja vu all over again. And the flight left! Yippee!!! (We were feeling pretty sorry at this point for a jinx-guy on our original flight… who'd already had his 8.30 am original flight the previous day cancelled then put on the 8.30 pm flight (our original… which was cancelled) then the 8.30 am next day flight (cancelled) etc etc. When our midday flight left there were a lot of missing faces and a very full flight. They were aiming to accommodate some but not all people on the 8.30 pm flight that night. Yeah right. Can't believe the outsized value and special treatment we've received by paying not a huge amount more for the premium/business class flights. We were finally ensconced in our cheap but cheerful studio in Fuengirola by 4.30 pm - a mere 17 hours later than expected. The beach is just over the road and we have a 6 km 'paseo maritimo' walk just downstairs - magic - sunrise… sunset… full moon - all beautiful and all right there. El cheapo Chinese for dinner on our first night in.
The sunrise 6 km walk on a daily basis (at a minimum) was a godsend. Aside from the zen like feeling of walking next to the ocean, after a couple of weeks in Spain, a visit to the phenomenal Sukiyaki sushi restaurant next door, a couple of dinners and a couple of breakfasts, just breathing the air seemed to be putting weight on us. In the main (and with a view to our next adventure in Morocco where we're not self catering), we semi-cooked a lot in Spain. The local supermarket chain, Mercadona, has had a big change since we were last here and now does a great range of pre-cooked take home meals - including BBQ ribs and paella - which became go-to favourites every week. Super easy to put together in our barely functional kitchenette. We also found a Moroccan chicken joint not far from home and a pizza and kebab joint too. Also run by a lovely Moroccan man. Seeing a trend?
Speaking of the kitchenette - It's so small it's more of a 'kitch' than a true kitchenette (let alone an actual kitchen). In the two weeks we've been here, we've been setting up the Airbnb as we live in it. Somewhat like building the plane whilst flying it. We knew it was a new listing… but still. By two weeks in we now have wifi (that took a week over Easter), safe power (no fire hazards, no showers of blue sparks, guaranteed hot water, luxurious use of an actual kettle, an iron and ironing board and more than one tea towel). Suffice it to say, it's been a long two weeks. We knew it was a bad electrical situation, but believe the well tanned Spanish Electrician who was finally sent out thought we were typical tourists and overreacting to some little thing. Right up until he arrived and dived under the kitchen sink to take a look - then turned pale and jumped back in a panic when he saw the pet fire-hazard in action. We slept more soundly when the apartment wasn't a certifiable fire hazard. Funny that.
One of the many reasons we adore Fuengirola is the markets. We were lucky enough to shop ourselves silly a couple of times before the weekly markets were completely disrupted by the Fair of International Countries - or Feria de International Pais - the 'FIP'. At least the disruption curbed the shopping risk. We visited the white village of Mijas - just up the hill. Always glorious to walk around and immerse ourselves in the colour and light. We went out to dinner to our 'covers all urges' Asian/Sushi/International buffet on Friday 29 April and continued onwards to the fairground for the first night of Feria. Wow! Packed. A bit too packed actually - I wouldn't have felt comfortable in the olden days, before Covid, jammed in to a crowd shoulder to shoulder - even less so now in the pandemic era - but great to see all the fairground rides and bright lights and just enormous amounts of serious fun-having.
Following day on the 30th, the Feria Parade was held from one end of Fuengirola to the other - somehting like 130 countries represented - some with small contingents - other countries with huge groups - 50 or more in national dress or costumes. The float with the band from Cuba was a highlight and most of the South American countries were well represented and incredibly fun and colourful. We had a great corner spot and took far too many photos - given that we'd forgottent it was even on, we just came upon it during an outing to buy fruit and lotto tickets. Once more we are in the running for zillions of dollars - both the Euromilions and the Eurojackpot were jackpotting, and they eventually topped out at 400 million Australian - then some couple in the UK won our Euromillions and it was time to head to Morocco anyway… sigh… back to the drawing board.
We had excellent luck with tripping over wonderful experiences on this trip - really and truly having a break from everything (though having to property-manage someone elses's Airbnb was a drag). We were out and about the day after the parade - being 1 May, May Day, Labour Day, Spanish Mother's Day and just plain Sunday and saw a public notice for a religious parade in the little back streets a block from the beach - so our neighbourhood! They be bringing out the Mary! We got a rough idea of the route and then forgot about it until we emerged from siesta for an evening stroll and heard the band and smelled the unmistakeable aroma of churchy-incense. We joined the throngs and watched in awe as one of the local brotherhoods paraded through the tiny back alleys with a massive float with our lady the virgin of Mount Carmel (brown scapula Mary) on board. Surrounded with mountains of pink roses, orchids, candles and preceeded and followed by a band, choirboys and girls - priest - all manner of congregation and carried on the shoulders of a great many strapping and sweating (and masked) younger people. Really reminds us of the devout faith in this heavily Catholic country. We haven't seen anything quite so impressive since Easter holy week / semana santa in Alhaurin al Grande years ago with the hooded, coloured robes reminiscent of the KKK and the march through the streets with floats and a young man dragging a full size crucifix. Here in Fuengirola the atmosphere was very intense - we both saw a couple of women crying from the emotion (or the incense - hugely intoxicating). Between visiting the fair on Friday, seeing the parade on Saturday and the solemnity and intensity of Mary's big day out on Sunday, it was a huge weekend altogether. Just before bed on Sunday evening we heard strange noises… Our first thought was the air conditioning unit on the balcony was blowing up or a pipe was about to burst - neither of which would have been that unreasonable given this apartment - but 'lo and behold - fireworks from the square. Yay! What a way to end the day.
During the last ice age (alright… during our 3 months in Croatia when we struggled to keep warm and even avoided leaving the house during the frigid Bura winds…) we thought of day trips. Spain we said. Let's visit Cordoba we said. Once we (eventually) arrived in Spain and did everything else on our catch-up list, Cordoba seemed like far too much effort. Old Town 'anywhere in Spain' with the inclusion of an albeit stunning Mosque. Maybe next time we said. That didn't stop the tiny urge for an easy and quick to get to day trip though so we said Malaga! Door to door (ish) on the train, 7 euro return, have a wander about, visit the market, get lunch and, most importantly, visit Cafe Aranda. Which is a cafe that's been tucked along an alleyway in the Centro Historico of Malaga since the 1930s. We tripped over it the last time we were in the city and have been keen to return for the authentic, fresh and luscious churros con chocolate. We even skipped toast at the apartment so we would feel less guilty about the fried dough dipped in hot melted chocolate. Still guilty mind you… just less. The spot we wanted to hit for a Menu del Dia, near the cathedral and very historic was not to be. The chef was off/late/dead (not entirely sure) - but there wasn't going to be a menu del dia or pretty much anything else until 2 pm at least. Probably. We're not keen on supporting anywhere that has the menu in 3 or more languages and the only other spot that we might have frequented would have actually been too much food. Sigh… So we figured we'd trundle back home on the train, have a nice day, get lunch at a regular haunt. Then, magically, on the way to the train station, we tripped over a geezer bar/resto. You know it's good and well priced when Spanish locals are eating at 12.30 pm. That's essentially still breakfast time. So we sat down, ordered up our 3 courses and wine for €9.80 each and within 30 minutes Los Pueblos was full. 100% full. All tables taken. No other tourists. What a find - James got to have boquerones, I had a grilled fish - and we started with a seafood soup and a paella respectively and some sort of creme caramel for dessert. So good. Well that was our successful outing to Malaga - luckily we don't live closer or we'd be at this restaurant more often - so much seafood on the menu we could work our way through it very happily.
Speaking of happy, finally the markets started back up again after a hiatus to allow for the Feria of International Countries. Morocco and well, most of Europe, seems to be copping heat waves this year and we're not even in Summer yet. I figured another new-to-me bikini for 2 euro would not go astray… bought a couple of extra tops… Morocco can be hard on clothes - the dust, the sun, the wind, not to mention the ever present risk of dropping fluorescent yellowy orange food something on an item of clothing - stains to die for. Of course a wee bit of jewellery… not as though it weighs much. Yes. Probably lucky the Feria stopped the markets for most of our stay.
Oh… oh for a European passport. We're purposely off to Morocco because otherwise we will run out of Schengen days. We are regularly paying silly-tax as the massive Euromillions lottery is jackpotting to 215 million euro this week. We could buy property in Malta - be Maltese… within 12 months - and never have to worry about running out of Schengen days again. Turkey was an option… as was Cyprus… but our usual haunts in the east of Europe were just not enticing with the ongoing war in Ukraine on their doorsteps. Morocco it is and we are very excited to be going back after 6 years. Excited and nervous in equal parts. Pending the Kingdom of Morocco getting on the no-test bandwagon - we will need to get PCR tested on Thursday morning and have a negative in order to fly to Marrakesh at 6.15 am / silly o'clock on Saturday morning. No pressure there then.
Fortunately we passed (or is it failed?)! We saved 50 euro by jumping on the train on Thursday morning and going to the airport. It was that much cheaper and more reliable than the local labs and only a 30 odd minute trip each way. We also used the opportunity whilst unencumbered with luggage to find the Ryanair check in desks, the 'we do it to be different' get your documents checked here desk and felt very comfortable that when we arrive at 3 am on Saturday morning, we can be, to a degree, on autopilot.
When the test results came through 4 hours earlier than expected at 7 pm on Thursday evening, with a resounding 'Negativo' we finally believed we were off to Morocco. We came within a hair's breadth of only needing an additional 10 kg bag via the Ryanair bag fee extortion system - but having sliced and diced and ducked and weaved and managed to get our total to 50 kilo… we then discovered a pair of shoes had been missed as they were sitting next to the front door - that would have been a couple of kilo - so all the discarded items went back in the third bag. We went online like good little Ryanair customers and bought a 20 kg additional bag instead. All good. Finished a bottle of wine and headed out for a final pizza and kebab meal in the hope of having some cold pizza for the early morning jaunt to Morocco. We're departing on the only direct flight to Marrakech - 6.15 am Ryanair flight. Yup. We learned a lesson on our flight last month - we'd avoided the direct Ryanair flight to Malaga and ended up delayed 17 hours with our unexpected Lisbon sojourn. This time, we're biting the Ryanair bullet and flying direct from Malaga to Marrakech - instead of spending all day going via Madrid or Lisbon or Barcelona… Seriously - what could go wrong?