Day 3 – Malaga

Day 3 was one of those days you inevitably have when traveling for a long time (or even when traveling for a short time) – nothing goes right, everything is closed, and the food sucks.  It was bound to happen, and I’m sure we’ll have at least one more day like it.  The important thing to remember in that situation is that there’s nothing you can really do about it, then just move on.  

I will say that the day started off really well. We went to the Malaga Museum, which has only been open for six months or so – many tourist websites still list it as under construction.  It was really interesting to be in a museum that had only recently been opened, and this museum was really outstanding.  It had a wonderful collection of antiquities and examples of Spanish painting, with really informative panels that weren’t overwhelming to read (sometimes when I’m in a museum I just can’t do it anymore…).  In addition, and most interestingly to me, there was a lot of information about the formation of the collections – how these objects came to be together in a museum.  It was fascinating!  (I will say that I only read carefully through the information about the antiquities collection, but I know there were similar informational panels for the paintings as well) 

Like a lot of museums, the collection of antiquities in Malaga was a donation of a private collection, mostly acquired in the 19th century, after the rediscovery of Pompeii made everyone crazy for Greco-Roman shit.  The couple who did the collecting, Jorge Loring y Oyarzábal and his wife, Amalia Heredia Livermore, were Spanish bourgeoisie, and Jorge’s father was a prominent tradesman from Boston (five points to anyone who can figure out if there is a connection between this family and Loring Hall at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens – I couldn’t find anything during a cursory glance at the American School website). Upper class families often used their wealth to obtain classical art work – most famously Lord Elgin – so it’s not surprising that this family did so.  They even had a special “folly” Greek temple built on the property of their country estate to store and display their pieces.  

I have always been fascinated by these people who had enough disposable income to buy ancient artifacts.  And I have a love-hate relationship with them as well – this couple definitely saved some very important pieces from destruction, including a bronze tablet with a Latin inscription detailing the laws of ancient Malaga (it has also been argued that Lord Elgin saved those precious marbles from being destroyed as well…).  But on the other hand, this couple at least was clearly keeping all these important pieces to themselves – the museum showcases many photos of their country estate, and describes the lavish house parties they threw there.  A poor pleb like me would not have been able to go and see those ancient works.  But, I also suppose, would I have wanted to?  Would it have meant anything to a middle-to-lower class person during that socio-economic climate?  

So many questions!  I absolutely loved that the museum put all this information out there, and really embraced an often overlooked/swept-under-the-rug area of museum reality.  On a panel about the Visigoths, who settled in the area after Rome fell, there was a frank admittance that interest in the Visigoths rose due to a desire by the government to align Spanish heritage with that of Aryan supremacy.  I love that the museum put its collection into historical context like this – not just what the pieces are and information about their time period, but also how they came to be important and why.  

So, if you ever get a chance to go to Malaga, definitely check out the Museo de Malaga!  

I won’t talk about the failures of the day that occurred after our museum visit – just know that there were enough to make the whole afternoon a waste.  But, we have the recovered our strength via wine and Twix bars, and Day 4 will see us driving to Seville!

PS – one set back of posting blog entries from my phone rather than my laptop is the lack of photos – I haven’t uploaded any of my photos yet since I don’t have my laptop with me, but I have taken a few photos on my phone.  I do post to Instagram, so feel free to follow me there if you’d like (@ploy.keener), but I will try to figure out in the next few days or so how to post photos on my phone to a blog entry.  And eventually, once I get home, all my nice DSLR photos will be up on my Flickr page.  

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Day 2 – Malaga 

Day 2 saw the beginning of some actual fieldwork.  Malaga was first settled by the Phoenecians, like a lot of cities in southern Spain, before eventually being taken over by the Romans.  In the old city center, there is a beautifully preserved Roman Theater.  It’s free to enter, and there is a nice little information center that you have to walk through before going into the actual theater.  Interestingly, after the theater fell into disuse, the whole area became an industrial center for – you guessed it – fish salting.  

You can’t actually get close to any of the vats in front of the theater; you can only see them through a little glass pyramid set into the pavement in front of the theater.  So Chris walked around it for about half an hour, taking photos and notes, while I chilled on a bench nearby.  As a refresher, Chris is writing his dissertation about how knowledge moved across the Empire, using the construction of these fish salting vats as evidence.  Nowadays, we have handy manuels and the internet, but how would a man wanting to make and sell garum in Malaca (the Roman name for Malaga) know how to get started?  Are all fish salting vats made in the same way?  Do they have to be?

One of the truly fascinating things to me as we have traveled all over the garum producing part of the empire is how strongly a lot of these places still identify with salted or preserved fish.  Anchovies are everywhere on the menus here in Malaga, and I’m sure I’ll be reminded of the  prevalence of salted cod in Portugal when we return there in a week or so.  There is enough cultural/local pride in this product that a fair number of the vats that we’ve seen have been very nicely preserved and maintained.  Some even include additional information or even videos about fish salting!  It’s really neat to me that this industry, this seemingly mundane part of everyday life, which is very different from the monumental temples and lavishly decorated villas that usually get all the pomp and circumstance, gets its own little bit of attention.  

So, a little bit of work to start off the day, but after we asked for and were denied the ability to get closer to the vats, we became tourists again and went to the Alcazaba, which is apparently a generic word for a Moorish fortification in Spain or Portugal.  It was a really lovely walk – lots of landscaped green space and hidden courtyards with fountains the Moors were so fond of.  It actually was built originally to  connect to the castle we visited on the first day, but for some reason visitors are not allowed to go between the two (my guess is difficulty in maintaining the path). 

For lunch, we went to Casa Lola, a busy spot we had passed several times and were excited to try.  It was delicious!  Patatas bravas with an amazing chipotle aioli sauce, a Moroccan inspired pork sandwich, a canapé – aka piece of toast – with cheese, tomato, and anchovy, and then ham croquettes.  I also had a glass of tinto de verano, which is exactly what you want to drink after a morning in the hot sun (and apparently it is the drink of choice for the locals, rather than sangria).

After lunch, we visited the Carmen Thyssen Museum, which was pretty unimpressive to me.  Apparently Carmen Thyssen was a rich aristocrat who collected paintings that all looked the same and now there in her house as a museum.  Meh.  

Dinner was another outstanding affair, though I think the restaurant we went to (Vineria Cervantes) was connected with the one from our anniversary, as the menus were almost exactly the same.  Not that that matters though, because they were both excellent!  We had: an arugula salad (we need veggies some of the time!), anchovies with guacamole and mango chutney, grilled  squid, duck breast with a berry sauce, and grilled venison with tomato chutney.  All with two glasses of delectable local red wine.  Seriously, the price and quality of wine here is phenomenal.  The general atmosphere is also pretty exceptional. (Dear readers, I might be in love with Malaga!)

Day 1 – Malaga

Our first full day here was lovely.  During the trip-planning process, we had decided to go to Malaga first for a few reasons.  The first was simply that Chris had to go back to see a few fish salting sites.  The second was that, since we had been there before, we thought it would be a nice place to start off a long trip – there would be less pressure to get around and see everything, since we had seen some things already, and there was also an element of familiarity about the place, which can be nice and can help the pacing of the trip when you know you’ll be exploring multiple new places.  

It was a relaxed day.  We had a really lovely breakfast at a place called BrunchIt, which seems to be a chain throughout Spain but whose website is down at the moment.  Anyway, it’s always so wonderful to get a good breakfast in Europe because it is often difficult for a traveler unless it’s being offered by the hotel.  We often start our days with a croissant and an espresso, which might work for some, but I need a lot more food than that to get going, especially before a long day of sightseeing.  So we were grateful to find this place, and I had some lovely avacado toast, which made me feel super trendy.  

After breakfast, we hiked up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro, which sits atop a cliff overlooking the whole area.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  I am convinced that there is a different sun over the Mediterranean that makes everything it touches a thousand times more beautiful.  At a price, though!  Make sure that you wear plenty of sunscreen and pack water bottles!  

On the first day of every trip, I always agonize over my outfit – I want to blend in as much as possible, but I also want to be as comfortable as possible, since I know I’ll be walking around and/or standing all day.  In the end, I always come to terms with myself – it’s a bit like walking the path to accepting who you truly are: I am an American.  I might not necessarily look like one, but I smile like one and I certainly talk like one.  Nothing I wear is going to fool people into thinking I’m a local, and I am finally reaching an age where I don’t really care (and I have never had nor ever will have the amazing fashion sense of a European woman).  As a traveler there are certain things I do to make myself less obvious, but at the end of the day, I’m going to wear my hiking boots and carry my backpack full of water and snacks because I know myself and my needs as a traveler. 

Upon our descent from the castle, we found the perfect spot for lunch, a place called Los Gatos, which means “The Cats” in Spanish (for those of you who may not know, my husband and I are obsessed with our cat).  We ordered several canapés, which in Spain, or at least at this place, apparently means a huge honking piece of bread slathered in the topping of your choice.  We ordered one with cod, cheese, and sundried tomato and one with white tuna, as well as a small ham sandwich (keeping in mind that “ham” in Europe generally means something more like prosciutto than your standard American lunch meat).

After lunch, we visited Picasso’a birthplace, which was informative if not overly exciting, then we headed to Malaga’s glass museum.  We really like the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art, so we figured this would be fun to check out.  

Whatever we were expecting, it was not a guided tour led by a British expat through a private house built for an Italian astronomer in the 1700’s filled with antique furniture inherited from both English and Spanish aristocratic families.  And glass, of course.  It was really surprising and also fascinating.  The man who led our tour has been collecting glass for about 50 years and somehow decided to open this glass museum in Malaga, of all places.  So if you ever find yourself in Malaga, I highly recommend the glass museum.  

Since it happened to be our fourth anniversary, for dinner we went to a lovely restaurant we had discovered and loved last year and it certainly did not disappoint.  El Meson de Cervantes is full of charm and delicious food – we had grilled octopus, wild mushroom with asparagus, chilled tomato soup, grilled sea bass, and a sort of fried ham croquette.  And no meal would be complete without wine!  It was truly enjoyable and the best way we know to celebrate.  Here’s to many more years of delicious food and exciting travel!

Day 20 – Marbella, Fuengirola, and Malaga (Costa Del Sol)

Another archaeology day today, without the beaches. Nothing of note besides an enormously stressful mishap. Remember how yesterday I was so concerned about the size of the car and getting around tiny European streets? Well, after we visited some vats in Marbella, we tried to go to a bonsai museum that they have there. Mostly we thought it would be a funny local curiosity that we should check out, like going to see the world’s largest ball of string on a cross-country road trip. So, we drove to the museum and tried to find parking. No street parking, but apparently there was a parking lot, so we headed for it. As we turned into what appeared to be a parking lot, we realized that it was packed with cars, as were all the streets around it. Cars everywhere. Cars on the curb, cars sticking out into the street, cars blocking other cars in the lot… As soon as we turned in, we knew it was a mistake, that there wouldn’t be any space, so we tried to back out, but a lady had turned in behind me, blocking the exit. She honked, we gestured angrily, and she backed out enough for us to back out and then start down a tiny side street.

Turns out, this tiny side street was a dead end. With no room to turn around at the end. With cars parked all along one side and a building wall on the other. So the only option was the back out. It was awful. Chris directed me as I slowly, painstakingly backed the car out, a millimeter at a time. Finally, we were back on the main street and on our way out of Marbella – no way were we staying after that!

After Marbella, we drove to two sites on either side of Fuengirola, which had a lovely beach as well. Finished with archaeology for the day, we drove to Malaga, a lovely little town. We only had this afternoon, but we made the most of it, in my opinion. We went to the cathedral, which is absolutely gorgeous. It was never finished because the money ran out, and the construction for what was completed took 200 years. The interior was multiple domes with huge columns and side chapels full of beautiful religious art. Once inside, all the stress from the earlier driving snafu melted away. I’m not religious at all, but something about being in these beautiful churches is so calming, and I love thinking about the men (and women, maybe?) who worked so hard to build such amazing, beautiful spaces. That work ethic, that determination, is what truly inspires me, not the divinity to whom the space is dedicated.

Anyway, after the cathedral, we walked over to the Picasso Museum, because apparently Picasso was born in Malaga! He left when he was 19 and never came back, but still, pretty cool. The museum was small but very nice – well organized with a free audio guide. There were also some archaeological remains preserved in the basement with – you guessed it! – fish salting vats! A total surprise; Chris had to take a few illegal photos. It seems that no matter what we do, we can’t escape garum.

After the museum, we strolled around a square facing a Roman theater where there was also some sort of local political rally going on. We stopped at a bar on the square for some win (the local sweet wine, muscatel, is delicious!) and observed the cheering and flag waving from afar.
Wine finished, we headed to dinner, a place recommended in our guidebook, Mesón de Cervantes. It was fabulous. A cozy, intimate space (read also: very small), with waiters bustling back and forth, the food is simply incredible. We had four tapas: Iberian jamón with grilled artichokes and asparagus, cured manchego cheese, wild boar stew, and a mushroom-leek-goat cheese quiche. Everything was absolutely delicious, including the fig flan we had for dessert. Don’t be intimidated by the small space and assured waiters! If you are in Malaga, go to this restaurant!

So, after a lovely afternoon and evening, we headed back to our Spartan little hotel for a good night’s sleep!