Tag Archives: Andalucia

They say Andalucia steals your heart…

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It’s official – the grey sky, Mum’s cooking and the fact that I’m wearing more than 2 layers of clothing proves it – I’m back in England!

Naturally, I’ve found myself reflecting on my time abroad and thinking about all of the things I enjoyed and have begun to start missing.  So here are a few of my favourite things about Estepona and Andalucia, Spain.

The Weather

As British as it may sound, the weather is something I will miss greatly.  Living on the southern coast of Spain was a treat of hot weather, light breezes and pleasant nights.  I’m sure that the more I reminisce, the more I’ll forget about the crazy weekend down pours and even the random day of hailstones (‘granizo’) in April!

But it’s true what they say – a sunny day can improve your mood, even if I did constantly complain about the tan lines!

The Views

I saw some wonderful things during my 9 months in Spain and I was lucky enough to experience many of them daily.

Estepona is a beautiful coastal town, and every morning I would begin my day walking along the promenade (‘el paseo maritimo’) in awe of the clarity and the majesty of the Gibraltar rock and Atlas Mountains.  In my office, located in the port of Estepona, we overlooked the marina and the luxury ships.  Lunch time meant wandering down to a relatively quiet area of La Rada beach, sitting on the rocks looking out to sea and with views of the great mountain in Marbella, named ‘La Concha’ the shell.  And in the evening, I could return to my flat, open up my window and look out into the bustling old town and the Sierra Bermeja Mountain that dominates the landscape behind Estepona.  Something I became quite fond of seeing every morning.

La Concha, Marbella – taken October 2011.

Sierra Bermeja – the backdrop of Estepona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’d recommend to anyone travelling around Andalucia would be the drive to Ronda.  It is the most breathtaking journey where driving along the mountain you see thousands of trees lining the rocky area, and you go higher and higher until you feel like you’re on top of the world!  It may sound like I’m on the verge of saying it changed my life… it didn’t, but it was AMAZING.  A definite must-see.

Andalucia

When I first reached Estepona, I shamefully admit that my knowledge of Spanish regions was somewhat lacking.  I arrived to learn that Andalucia was a more traditional area of Spain, rich in culture and proudly speaking the Andalucian dialect of Spanish –‘andaluz’ – the second most spoken dialect in Spain, but with a reputation of being notoriously difficult to understand!

But after only 9 months in the Andalucian region, I feel a great love for the area for many reasons.  There are so many great cities and monuments in the region with the rich culture of Malaga, the vibrancy of Seville and the Sierra Nevada in Granada.  Generally, the people are friendly – occasionally over-friendly, but the people are lovely and help you along with your Spanish.  But most of all, Andalucia –and Spain- have an amazing way of life.  At nights and weekends, the streets, cafes and restaurants would fill up with friends and families of different generations, simply enjoying life.  In addition to the processions and festivals, it seemed like every day was a celebration in Spain – and it’s an uplifting feeling to see such enjoyment of life.

The Food

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the food in my final blog.  As a great appreciator of food, it’s no surprise that Spanish food became one of my favourite things too.

Some Spanish delicacies that I tried and came to order again and again include:

  • Puntillitas – fried baby shrimp.  Before reaching Spain, I swore I hated shrimp but I was proven wrong by these tasty little shrimp in batter, with a generous squirt of lemon juice
  • Almejas y Mejilliones – staying with seafood, an important food group in Spain, I also tried clams and mussels for the first time.  The mussels are usually served in a tomato sauce, and are quite tasty, but my favourite are the clams cooked in white wine with a squirt of lemon.  They taste great, but are dangerously small that you can keep eating and eating until the whole ‘ración’ is gone!
  • Solomillo al whisky – the Sevillan delicacy that I tried during my time in the wonderful city.  There are no words to describe the mouth watering taste of the fillets cooked in whisky!
  • Patatas bravas – what I consider to be the Spanish version of chips, these small chunks of fried potato with chilli and garlic sauce and the perfect accompaniment to any tapa.
  • Tomates aliñados – the beauty of this dish is in its sheer simplicity.  Slices of tasty Spanish tomato in olive oil, parsley and garlic – both refreshing and delicious
  • And speaking of olive oil, I can’t forget about the typical Andaluz breakfast of cafe con leche and toast (tostadas) with olive oil and salt.  A very satisfying breakfast!

Believe me when I say that the list goes on – and trust me, I could continue to talk about the amazing food that I tasted in Spain from ‘gambas pil-pil’ to ‘albondigas’, but I need to draw the line somewhere!

I haven’t even gone on to mention the excellent restaurants in Estepona, including:

Enjoying a massive mint chocolate sundae in Gelateria del Centro, Plaza del Dr Arce – August 2011.

  • La Pampa – a cosy restaurant with DELICIOUS food, all cooked to an excellent high-standard and somewhere I’d recommend without a doubt
  • La Taberna – excellent tapas in the port, a place with a great atmosphere
  • La Escollera – lots and lots of fish!
  • Sur – for a good grill, the Moroccan provides excellent dishes
  • Gelateria del Centro – best ice cream place!
  • Wang – good Chinese takeaway
  • La Taberna de Lucia – a chain of 4 restaurants in Estepona with great tapas dishes

And if you like to cook, the selection of fresh vegetables in the supermarket is fantastic with vegetables twice the size of those in England, extensive fish counters and an aisle solely dedicated to olives.

My year abroad has ended – but I’ll never forget it.  And now I’ve had my taste of Andalucia, I will be back, for sure.

Thank you for reading my blog.

I wanted to end with a song – and it took me a while to choose.  From Danza Kudoro (the song that every Spanish ERASMUS student now knows, I’m sure), the annoying catchy Ai se eu tu pego to the Juan Magan hit – Bailonda por ahi or one of Shakira’s many – Rabiosa.  In the end, I decided to go with the song that was Number 1 in the Spanish charts when I left Spain on 13th May 2012.

¡Hasta luego! 🙂

 

Seville… a.k.a. “Sevilllllla”

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With my imminent return to England, I thought I’d take a trip to one of the most loved places in Andalucia – the city of Seville.  Although only there for one night, I too did fall a little bit in love with the city.

The journey to Seville was an amazing thing in itself.  We had to travel through the inland city of Ronda to reach Seville, which involved the bus driving around mountains.  Normally a view I see from the plane, we travelled further and further up until it felt like I was on top of the world.

After a collective four hours of travelling, Rebekah and I finally reached the city of Seville.  Here are some of the things I loved about Seville.

If there is something Spain does well, and I can say this without a doubt, it’s that tapas are excellent!

And Seville did not disappoint!

A fancy Spanish take on fish and chips.

In a traditional tapas restaurant Casa Román’ in Plaza de las Venerables, I tried one of Seville’s specialities – solomillo al whisky – as the name suggests, strips of meat soaked in a spicy, whisky sauce.  But this description does not do justice to the taste – the juicy and delicious flavour that I’ve only ever experienced with meat cooked in whisky!  The following day we tried something a little different at a Gastrobar, this time treating us to a modern take on tapas, which was very different but just as delicious.  One to mention was the ‘baclao dorado’ [cod], which was served to me in a cocktail glass.  Yes, a serving of tasty cod, with a fried egg on top, sprinkled with crisps, in a cocktail glass.

The food fun didn’t stop there. A traditional and huge paella – always a Spanish favourite – and I agree!

 

 

 

 

After this particularly immense paella on Saturday night, we went for a wander around Seville in search of some night-time atmosphere in the city.  This soon became a fully fledged hunt as the city seemed strangely quiet.  Whether the Sevillanas were saving themselves for the Sevilla Feria that begins this week, I guess we’ll never know!  Eventually, we reached the ‘Alameda de Hercules’, another recommendation.  An area lined with a few bars and mostly ‘botellons’ in street, we stopped for what was an incredibly good mojito, before heading back to the hotel.  It seems that a mojito can be classed ‘as making the best of a situation’!

During our travels around the city, we passed the Real Maestranza bullring– one of the most famous bullrings in Andalucia, which attracts famous bull fighters from across the country.  Saturday was a particularly special day as the first bull fight of the season.  Spaniards were dressed up in their finest clothes and children were having their photos taken with the bull ring in the background.  Yet, as we walked further down the road, we saw the stirrings of what became an anti-bullfighting protest.  Police had closed off the street for the equally large crowd of people walking in the direction of the bullring blowing whistles, waving flags and chanting things like “Andalucía, anti-taurina” and declaring that bullfighting is “ni arte ni cultura”.

Entrance of the Real Maestranza Bull Ring in Seville

Anti-taurina protest down Paseo de Colón.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As in most cities, there were some truly breathtaking sights.

Really, really tall.

The Real Alcazar was something incredibly spectacular – a beautiful palace with intricate carvings and giant tapestries hanging on the walls.  Even more astounding were the Gardens of the Alcazar, so expansive that we seemed to walk through them for hours.  We came across water fountains – large and small, beautiful flowers and perfectly bloomed roses, vast grassy areas with only the sound of the birds tweeting, as well as amazing views, mosaic benches and some of the tallest palm trees that I have ever seen towering over me.

And then there are the plazas [squares].  Ah, the plazas – one of my favourite things about Spain.

One of the first plazas we stumbled upon was the Plaza de Salvador.  A huge plaza right next to Church of Salvador, and in true Sevillan style, I hear, it was full of people gathered around chatting in the sun and sipping on a cerveza or some tinto verano.  It was pretty cool, and they made drinking in the streets in the middle of the day seem like the most civilised thing!

But, I leave the best until last.  By far the most fantastic sight was the Plaza de España.  After a day of travelling and exploring the city, this is the last place we reached, following so many recommendations.  As we walked through Maria Luisa Park, it was like approaching Disneyland as the plaza became increasingly more visible to us artistically framed between two palm trees.

Plaza de España, Seville

In the middle stood a grand, and given the 30 degree weather, cooling fountain.  In the area around the fountain, couples, friends and families enjoyed horse and carriage rides and rowing around the canal which runs within the plaza.  For a good while we lay on the bench just enjoying the calming and wonderful atmosphere of the Plaza de España, before crossing the bridge to see the 48 mosaic alcoves for each Spanish province.  Of course, I paid particular attention to Malaga stopping for a photo with my home for the last 9 months.

The province of Malaga's presence in the impressive Plaza de España

So Andalucia delivers another excellent city.  As I said to my manager after the trip, “there’s not one city in Andalucia that I’ve visited and not loved”. 🙂

Weekend in Malaga

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A weekend trip to Malaga was an awesome experience of Spanish culture.  Emma and I went for business (a client’s anniversary party) but also had the chance to explore one of the best cities in Andalucia.  It was such a good weekend – it’s definitely blog-worthy!  So here are some of the highlights:

Tapas

When it comes to Spanish food, tapas are the best way to go about it.  Tapas are little portions of Spanish delicacies – lots of seafood, chorizo and ‘other things’.  My favourite was gambas pil pil – prawns in chilli and garlic.  With the spicy and with garlic kick, it was the closest thing to Mum’s cooking in two months, yum!  The ‘other things’ included rabbit and (I quote) “two little birds”, which didn’t sound all that appetising to me and I couldn’t bring myself to try.  Especially with the pigeons flying around (a reminder of England when I usually see seagulls all day) and little birds (oh god, now I really wouldn’t be able to eat it!)

Some advice: tapas places usually have people sitting around large barrels and these barrels are the standard decor – but don’t always go to the big places.  The small places down a little side street have the most rica food

Museums

Malaga is now promoting itself as ‘the city of museums’.  As we walked around the cobbled streets of Malaga we did see that there were museums and other places rich in culture in every corner as we got lost in the city!  We first ventured into the Carmen Thyssen Museum.  Opened recently it holds a large collection of paintings from different periods and of different themes.  The best thing about the collection was the images of traditional life in Andalucia.  There were lots of paintings of women dancing flamenco, people wandering around in the narrow streets of the now ‘old towns’ and a general enjoyment of life.  Though seeing the painting of Estepona ‘back in the day’, there didn’t seem to be much going on here, which didn’t surprise us!

The Beach at Estepona with a View of the Rock of Gibraltar (1855)

As part of the business part of the trip, we also visited the Felix Revello del Toro museum.  Revello del Toro is a Malaga-born painter who has a talent and appreciation for portraits and the female figure.  The museum and the paintings were amazing, and it was brilliant to see the work of someone who can capture the essence of a person in a painting when the height of my artistic ability is drawing a stick man!

Sumida en el Sueno (1989)

Mojito

The 40th anniversary of a language school was the event that we attended for work, and they know how to celebrate in Spain.  With another open bar, delicious canapés and all set in a pretty good-looking language school – it was a great celebration.  And brilliant that I finally got to try a good mojito!  Other than waiting in the queue for a good 30-45 minutes, there was just the right amount of crushed ice and sugar to make a perfect Mojito.  If only I can pronounce it the proper Spanish way now!

Night life

Malaga not only is a city, but a university city!  And with lots of young people come lots of bars.  Since the Spanish night out doesn’t start until a ridiculous 3am, when we arrived in Malaga city centre, there were people milling around trying to attract us into the very empty bars.  And the ‘attraction’ came in the form of a free drink per bar.  Lovely!  Unfortunately, I can’t add so many positive comments about the Spanish music.  I find this quite odd because I’ve heard some good Spanish music, which seems to disappear in bars etc. and is instead replaced with a) not-so-great Spanish music b) retro 80s pop and rock or c) mainstream English/American music.  However, an advantage of this was discovering that the Spanish do pronounce ‘Lady Gaga’ in the best way!

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Tweetup?

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Tweeting bird, derived from the initial 't' of...

Image via Wikipedia

Networking – I can’t remember a time without it!  Well, without a social network that is — My life has had that blue and white mark of Facebook all over it for the last… 4 years (although it does seem like forever!)

Networking, in the professional sense, has become an important concept in life and business.  You can’t go a week in uni without hearing about some sort of career networking event.  And everyone knows the importance of contacts!  So much so that you find you have a Facebook account, Twitter account and Linked In account – at the very least.

On Wednesday, I attended my first networking event in Marbella, Spain, and not as a student, but representing the company I’m working for.

This particular event was a Tweetup, which is basically a group of Twitter users meeting up.  This was quite a small one in comparison to some events that are so big that they have screens up so everyone can see the live Twitter feeds!

Marbella is really nice so being able to spend a Wednesday night in the outdoor bar of this classy bar/restaurant with some REALLY successful people added a welcome touch of glamour to my week!

This event was slightly more informal than other networking events but it was still a great opportunity to chat with different people, exchange a few business cards and receive some wise advice from those with much more experience.

It was also a brilliant opportunity to meet some great characters – a woman who had worked in some of the best cities all over the world, a blogger who attended so many of these events and a social media and sales guru etc.

It was a really good event and with some really cool people.  I would love to go again!

Representing at Tweetup Marbella

Oh, and our photo is going to be in a Marbella magazine… nice!  Standard night in Marbella.

That’s all for this week – fingers crossed I’ll be reporting back many more events! 🙂

Snapshots of Spain

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I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a bank holiday.  Normally in Spain the holidays are for some religious purpose.  August 15th was a normal day, but it was by night that the festival began!  I live in a flat overlooking Estepona ‘old town’ so I luckily had a brilliant view of the whole parade that went down ‘Calle Real’.  After a quick wiki search, I found that the Spanish, along with many others, celebrate the Assumption of Mary – otherwise known as the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday when she was accepted into heaven.  It went on for over an hour and the news showed that similar festivities occurred around Spain.  Some highlights (which you can see in the photo) include two brass bands, the men holding the statue of the Virgin Mary shouting “guapa, guapa, guapa” and women dressed as brides.

The statue of the Virgin Mary being carried through 'Calle Real', where people had lined the streets. and the second band following behind.

The whole street was full of people and there was an amazing atmosphere that was great to be a part of.  And that wasn’t even the biggest celebration – that happens in July, can’t wait to experience that one!

More recently, a few sales meetings took me to Gibraltar.  For those of you who may not know, Gibraltar – commonly known as ‘the rock’ is found between southern Spain and North Africa.  It is a British territory, so I was very much considering my little trip to Gibraltar as a potential cure for my home sickness.  After crossing the border, with lots of flashes of your passport, you pass the Gibraltar airport runways.  Literally, you can walk straight past the runways and you see the planes take off from the island very closely, which is pretty cool.

As soon as you look around you see ‘Winston Churchill Road’ and English signs everywhere.  The Gibraltarians have their own accent, something difficult to describe but interesting to hear.  And of course, you can see English everywhere – a language I understand with ease! J

After the sales part of the day, we treated ourselves to fish, chips and mushy peas from one of the many fish and chips places in Gibraltar.  It did feel a bit like home – with Burger Kind, McDonalds and Subway all in sight – but sitting in 37 degrees heat!  All followed by a cheeky visit to Morrisons to pick up things that are missing in Spain (big box of cereal, chilli sauce and a massive pack of Typhoo tea) and catch up on the English headlines (and I may have aww-ed when I saw the British currency – I do miss the Queen on my money!).

I took this trip with one of the directors of the company who’s also a photographer. This led to my next destination of Sotogranda, Cadiz where ‘locations’ were looked at, lighting was discussed and I suddenly felt quite glamorous.  We drove into Sotogrande on a road lined with palm trees – more LA, less promenade style.  At the end of the road was a roundabout with a Porsche sat on it – bit of casual advertisement of a PORSHE on a roundabout!  And I got to see some of the most amazing houses, flats, buildings, yachts, boats and views I have ever seen!  One of the things that particularly

The Burger Bar.

stuck out for me was an American style burger bar that you’d think would be out of place, but for some reason was completely fitting despite the luxury of Sotogrande.  A very glamorous place – I’ll remember it when I’m a multimillionaire looking to buy my third house…. well, we’ll see!

My first sight of Sotogrande which wow-ed me, near the 'Hippy Market'

And to top it all off, a sighting of a Spanish A-List celeb ended the

trip.  We saw the daughter of the Duquesa de Alba, who was the subject of the Flamenco show I saw see post ‘Tans, Flamenco and early starts’.  Like I said, Spanish A-list, so unfortunately I didn’t make the most of the experience, nor did I know who she actually was until we left.  But a brush with fame all the same!

A day of British treats, Spanish luxury and a touch of glamour – and all part of work!  A brilliant day which renewed a fresh burst of Spanish enthusiasm in me!

Another beautiful view of Sotogrande.

All things Spanish.

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Every country has its own traditions, its own customs and its own habits.  It’s only natural that when you spend time in a country you notice them.  When living in a country, they become even more apparent as you try to adjust to them.  Here are a few things that I’ve noticed about Estepona, Spain.

Siestas:

When you think of Spain, siestas are something that comes to mind.  The siesta falls between 2pm and 5pm – generally considered the hottest time of the day.  Although, it does seems hot ALL the time here in Estepona!  Lunch falls within the siesta.  As I have already mentioned in other posts, lunch at 2pm is something rather difficult to adjust to when a 12pm/1pm lunch in the UK is the norm.

I might add here that contrary to popular belief, I DO NOT get a siesta.  If I’m honest, I get more of a siesta at uni, even if this does mean having a nap in the library :P.  However, siestas do mean that a LOT of shops, banks etc. are not open.  Which leads me to my next point…

Opening times:

Opening times take a lot of getting used to, and until you do, they may seem completely random.  With a massive break in the middle of the day, most places are open early morning and/or late into the night.  On Sundays you will find that most things are closed other than the big supermarkets.

August is the holiday season in Spain.  As you’ll find in England, many people will take their summer holiday at this time of the year, as in Spain.  However, you may also find here that some shops will close for the whole month or people will be out of the office for ages!

Hello:

Standard greeting in the UK to answer the phone: Hello?  Can I help? etc.

In Spain, ‘dígame’ is widely used.  Grammatically, this is an imperative – so some may consider it a bit abrupt.  I had to think about it the first time I heard it.  However this greeting, used for answering phone calls to working on the fish counter at Mercadona, is used everywhere.  Literally meaning ‘tell me,’ this custom, which does seem to make things more efficient, is a common understood greeting in Spain and something I’m getting used to.  Eventually, I’m sure I’ll be answering my phone ‘dígame’ instead of ‘hola’.

Good morning? :

A quick guide to polite greetings, but more importantly, WHEN to use them –

Good morning = Buenos días (from early morning until about 2/3pm)
Good afternoon = Buenas tardes (3pm- around 9/10pm)
Good evening = Buenas noches (onwards)

Andalucía accent:

The accents and slang of the UK will widely differ from formal, ‘proper’ English taught in foreign schools.  Similarly, the Andalucía accent, from what I’ve heard, is a much more relaxed version of the ‘school-taught’ Spanish with shortened words and strong accents (e.g. you can’t tell the difference between a ‘b’ and a ‘v’ in speech).   This is what I’m trying to adapt to.  That and the speed of naturally spoken Spanish!

Roads and traffic lights:

Generally, a little confusing.  Not as strict or structured as the UK but certainly not the challenge faced in countries like India.  Though they do like to use their horns here, a lot.

The view.

Here are just a few observations about Spain that I’m adapting to – things to bear in mind if you are in Spain.

Though generally, what a brilliant lifestyle here!  I’m sitting in my flat, my windows well open.  They look out onto the streets of the ‘old town’ in Estepona, which has been buzzing all day, full of tourists and locals.  Especially at this time, the siesta, when the smell of food is wafting in.  Lovely!

Another point, people look much younger than they are here.  Whether it’s the climate, the way of life or the siestas, they’re certainly doing something right here in Spain.  As my high school Spanish teacher used to say, and a phrase he very much liked to use (shout out to Mr.Gough)

“Que vida más buena que tenemos” – what a good life we have!

Tans, flamenco & early starts.

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My first ‘official’ week has been crazy.

My job has obviously been a major feature of the week with 9am til 6pm days just being spent at work – VERY different to the summer holidays.  Harder still is the adaption to a 2pm lunch and a 10pm dinner.  It’s only natural that by 12pm, the Brit in me wants lunch!  However, no matter what the time is, being able to walk just a stone’s throw from my office to the wall of the beach is brilliant.  I have never had lunch on an ‘ordinary’ day, feet dangling just above the sand looking out at the views of the sea and Gibraltar.  A beautiful accompaniment to the amounts of chorizo I’m munching on at lunch!

Work is a challenging and interesting experience.  At the moment there’s lots of training and when speedy Spanish dialogues start in the Andalucian accent… quite a bit of confusion!  I hope I get better at that!  I get to do real work, which is great and there’s lots of variation.  If my year continues like my first week, it will be brilliant!  Due to a few meetings, I have had sneak peeks of nearby places including Marbella and Puerto Banus, two of the most exclusive and expensive places in Andalucia.  This I noticed, when stopped in a petrol station in Puerto Banus, there were 3 porsches around me at one point in time.  Not bad… not bad at all.

Although most of my week has been filled with my main job of sales, I have also had the opportunity to do some writing.  I attended a press release with a colleague for a flamenco show coming to Estepona.  Cecilia Gomez, the flamenco dancer, was very nice, very talented and an honour to meet and write about.

http://www.andalucia.com/flamenco/dancers/cecilia-gomez.htm

This flamenco show, about the Duchess of Alba, a very important figure in Spain is meant to be amazing.  Luckily, I have the opportunity to go the Estepona’s bull ring tomorrow to watch the show for myself.  It has been reported to be a ‘microcosm of Spanish culture’ so I hope this gives me such an insight so early in my year abroad.

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The flamenco show was fantastic!  Cecilia Gomez was as amazing as I thought she would be.  The dancing was incredible and every intricate move was faultless and done to perfection.  And of course, the outfits were beautiful!  Just being at the bull ring was an exciting feeling.  There was something about the atmosphere there and watching the hundreds of ladies with their ‘abanicos’ –fans, as they all moved together in unison.  We went to the port after and it most definitely is true what they say – the Spanish are a lot more generous with their alcohol measurements!

Today I also stepped onto the beach for the first time.  Shockingly, it has taken me this long!  I was the very definition of a tourist – writing my name in the sand, getting excited by being in the sea and getting a lot of sun.  I tan incredibly easy though and am already significantly darker in just a week… a year is going to be very interesting.

All in all, a very enjoyable week.  My 366 days are off to a great start! 🙂

'Cayetana - su pasión' flamenco show at Estepona bull ring