Wednesday, April 6 and Thursday, April 7, 2016: Málaga, Spain
Málaga is a popular tourist destination on Spain’s Costa del Sol that has a fairly built up downtown right by the beach, ruins inside and outside the city, and a claim to fame as the birthplace of Picasso. It’s also well-situated for catching a bus to Tarifa, from which major ferries leave for Morocco and which does not itself have a major airport. I came to Málaga for transportation reasons, and after a relentlessly paced few days in Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, I needed little convincing from the Argentine engineer sharing my dorm room to spend the day lounging on the beach and watching the sunset from a ruined castle. As a result, the below outline is primarily a review of what I was told I definitely should have done if I wasn’t in such a rush to get out of there, interspersed with a few things I did have the opportunity to see and do for which I can vouch.
Summary of the Below Verbosity
Getting There and Getting Around
- Airport: A number of airlines fly here cheaply
- Málaga Cercanias Line: The airport is small and you can get to the train quickly, snag a ticket, and be at Málaga Centro Alameda in like fifteen minutes
- BlaBlaCar: While I did not end up experimenting with this ridehsharing app because the guy I contacted for a ride already had a full car when I got in touch, a hostel staff member recommended I give it a whirl when I told him I was planning to take the dreaded bus to Tarifa. It’s what I thought Uber was going to be when I first got Uber: If you are going somewhere and want someone to split gas money, you post your departure place and time and destination and people will hit you up for a ride. I was wrong about Uber
- Lights Out Málaga: Everything a hostel should be, in my opinion: perfect location, clean, modern, (relatively) easy to find, small enough that you can get to know everyone pretty quickly but not so small that you feel like you’re intruding on a clique’s intimate moments if you arrive a day late. The night I spent here, a staff member (or possibly just a guest, or a friend, it was hard to tell) was rather insistently rallying everyone for what sounded like it would be a pretty fun bar crawl. The hostel didn’t just post the event but actively encouraged people to join. I didn’t go because I hadn’t had dinner yet and couldn’t get my shoes untied from my backpack, but that is a regret with which I’ll have to live. The one downside is that the place is all dorms, so if you’re looking for a private room, you need to look elsewhere. Every bunk bed has a curtain you can pull over it to gain privacy and darkness. I highly recommend this place if you are in Málaga
- Café Central – slightly touristy coffee shop right on the Plaza de la Constitución. Good spot to watch the goings on
- Recyclo BikeCafé: If you need food after 10pm, this bicycle repair shop/restaurant combo is where you will go. I can’t speak to the quality of a bike repair here, but the food is good and reasonably priced
- El Mimbre: It was open when I needed breakfast, and the breakfast was pretty tasty. I had a café con leche and something empanada-like that had chicken in it, which was unusual for breakfast
- El Secreto: Tapas bar by the bus station. This place served me a three course meal and a coffee in the middle of the day for eight dollars and I can’t speak highly enough of it
- La Malagueta: It’s not Bora Bora but it’s a nice Mediterranean beach in the city center
- La Alcazaba: Impressive fortress very quickly accessible from city center. While I arrived too late to tour inside, I can say that the walls are a great place from which to watch the sunset
- Mercado Central de Ataranzas: I didn’t buy anything here, I was just browsing, but it was sweet. Sort of open-air, sort of enclosed, real fresh stuff on display all over. Right across from Lights Out
- Plaza de la Constitución: It’s a central square. Not much to say but plenty to see
First Stops Next Time I’m In Town
- Noria de Málaga: I am not going to apologize for really liking to go on ferris wheels and having been on them all over the world and I am still slightly resentful that I didn’t get to ride the one in Málaga. This wheel is supposedly Europe’s Largest Transportable Attraction! That’s entertainment
- Picasso Museum: Picasso was born here and this museum covers that incident
- Carmen Thyssen Museum: Málaga’s other highly recommended museum
- Free tour: If I had had more time I would have gone on this free walking tour offered by Pancho Tours, which is advertised at Lights Out. It meets everyday at 11 next to the fountain in the Plaza de la Constitución
- Castillo de Gibralfaro: Walk here from La Alcazaba. More extensive ruins higher on the hill. See also: Roman ampitheater
- Catedral de Málaga: I don’t know anything about it but it looked cool from the outside and I would like to go inside some time. Find God, etc.
Notes and Photos
I arrive in Málaga early Wednesday afternoon. Usual drill: I take the train from the airport, start walking to Lights Out, wander around kind of lost and too nervous to ask for directions I might not understand, and eventually get where I’m going. I check in, enter the hostel dorm room and find a girl about my age locking up her stuff. I say hello and make some conversation in terrible Spanish.
“You are travelling alone?”
“Want to do something together?”
And we’re off. I have grand plans to titter frantically from one tourist attraction to the next; she wants to go to the beach. I can oblige. We spend the day relaxing at La Malagueta. She’s a twenty-seven year-old Argentine engineer bouncing from town to town in southern Spain for a month. Her story is that it’s quite common back home to work and study in equal parts for a longer period of time rather than doing each separately for shorter, so she’s in engineering school and also is some sort of foreman at a construction site (a position made offical by her yellow hardhat – I made sure to ask). Apparently, neither employer nor school protest forcefully when she disappears for thirty to sixty days at a time to roam Andalusia. We cover your standard conversational ground: Life back home, our travels thus far, that I am such a typical gringo and she knows what I am like. Near the beach, I spy a ferris wheel, Noria de Málaga. I would think an engineer would have an appreciation for one of history’s great marvels of innovation, but she gives the usual response that people give when I ask them to go on ferris wheels with me.
After a pleasant day by the sea, it’s almost sunset. We haven’t given ourselves much time to get to a good vantage point, so we hustle up a hill towards the ruins we can see above town. We reach the exterior of La Alcazaba without a minute to spare. The view from the old fortress is quite nice – you can see out over the whole city and to the mountains in the west.
By the time we get back to the hostel, shower, and are ready to eat, it’s after ten o’clock. We then waste fifteen minutes trying to un-double-knot my only pair of dress-code-passable shoes from the outside of my backpack. We fail. The hostel employees are preparing for a bar crawl and are hard-pressed to think of a single place at which we could get dinner at this time of night. So much for living the Spanish lifestyle. My impression of Americans (and maybe other people) talking about Spain is that it’s always “late” this and “more leisurely” that – “Oh, you know the Spaniards, they like to stay out all night at the discotecas and have a nice siesta the next day and eat dinner really late. And it’s ALL tapas. Do you know what tapas are?” I do. Not so in Málaga.
The staff does muster one tenuous recommendation – Recyclo BikeCafé – which is both bicycle repair shop and restaurant. When we arrive, we find that it meets our criteria: open. The place is also a quaint café with good food and we end up having a lovely meal. It’s nice: my roommate helps me with my Spanish, and when I start babbling incoherently, making up words and talking too fast, she smiles at me and says, “In English.” Generally, her presence seems to help me blend in: when she meets a fellow Argentine in the hostel lobby, her countrywoman first asks if I too am from Argentina and then files “German” as her second guess. I find this guessing game wildly vindicating: Not such a typical gringo now, am I? (I probably still am.)
In the morning, my three roommates are still asleep when I awaken, so I head for the very quiet streets of Málaga to get food and coffee. I wander through a pretty wild (to me) market – Mercado Central de Ataranzas – which is across the street from Lights Out and has fresh foods and meats everywhere, then grab coffee and a little chicken pastry at El Mimbre down the street. With nourishment in hand, I stroll, snapping photos on my phone and, as usual, getting lost, then find myself in the Plaza de la Constitución, which is large and open and surrounded by several businesses. I find another, more touristy cafe – Café Central – where I grab a coffee, sit and watch the activity for a bit.
Eventually, I weave my way back through town, which has some grand and very beautiful architecture woven into it, and arrive at the hostel. My engineer roommate is on the roof, as are our other roomates and, apparently, most of the rest of the hostel, which it turns out offers free breakfast every morning on the roof. The roof has an outdoor area which is peaceful and bright in the mornings and has good views of the surrounding area.
We finish eating and I depart for the bus station. Posted bus times are inconsistent, so a ticket in hand is the only reliable documentation of when the bus leaves and whether I will be on it. My roommate plans for the free tour: everyday, Málaga has a free tour that meets in the Plaza de la Constitución and then takes you around the city to check out the sites. I arrange to meet her for the tour if there is time before the bus.
There is not. On the walk to the station, I again pass the ferris wheel, which looks enormous above me and reminds me of my usual failure to convince anyone that going on a ferris wheel is a good use of our time. I secure the bus ticket, and determine that the bus leaves at 1:30. It’s the only bus to Tarifa; on the plus side, it’s a direct route and I won’t need to switch buses. I stop at the supermarket in the basement (I forget the name), reached via elevator from the main floor of the bus station, to grab large bottles of soap, shampoo, sunscreen, toothpaste, etc: if I get to Tarifa after stores close and don’t find any good stores when I first arrive in Morocco, it could be Saturday before I am settled in Marrakech and can secure toiletries. Once I have them, I head back outside to find some food. There is a strip of cafes and eateries to the north of the station. I pick one. El Secreto. At the bar, they give me a three course meal plus a coffee for $8. This deal seems to me unheard of. I take the food to go, out to a tiny park, and eat it on a bench there. Cars whiz by close to my back. There are no other people sitting in the park. The food is delicious, and after I finish dessert I return to the station. Eventually I board the bus.
On the bus from Málaga to Tarifa, an old couple cuddles in the seats in front of me. Their pose is beautiful in its own way, a reminder of the longevity of real, genuine love in an age of hedonist and noncommital obsessions, but not comfortable for the person in the row behind them. Her head rests on his shoulder, he leans back in his chair to accommodate. His chair is the one in front of mine and it makes things really crowded for my legs. I move to the other seat. The couple is replaced at Algericas by a heavy, heavily breathing man (possibly doing the heavy breathing through his mouth) who cannot get comfortable and switches between both seats and between leaning forwards and backwards, leaving me with no refuge. On a positive note, the audial assault of his labored breaths is drowned for a time by the chatter from his portable radio (they still exist). I prefer the couple.