The beginning of the end

As I prepared to do just as Nina did and leave Madrid for Paris to begin the journey home, I reflected on our journey together. Sure, I took a slight detour or two, Estapona and Lanzarote – but our paths merged for one last time that final night in Madrid. Prior to leaving Madrid, Nina spoke to the maid, Rosita, about all the places she missed out on visiting. I too am thinking about places I missed out on seeing but more importantly, I am reflecting about all the places I have been. Not just in following Nina’s footsteps on this trip but my whole gap year. I was preparing to return to Paris – back to where it all began.

I took my last paseo from my hostel, up and through the Puerta del Sol towards the Plaza Mayor. I looked around me as I wandered through Sol. The usual buskers, beggars, touts and lottery ticket sellers were there. I remembered Nina’s description of the paseo. She wrote:-

“All the street-sellers are out, and all the beggars. Shabby and dusty, the necktie vendor moves hither and thither offering to the strolling crowd a score or so of silk ties flung loose across his arm. The cake-seller stands against the wall, an uncovered basket at his feet from which passers-by who have no fear of germs may purchase sugared buns or fine little pipes of bread or sponge-cakes smeared with jam and then rolled in coconut. The peanut man, the lottery-ticket man, the cool drinks man, the newsboys are all aboard for the paseo shouting their wares.”

The beggars and the lottery-ticket sellers remain but newsboys and peanut man are long gone, as are the tie-sellers and cake-sellers. Now the street-sellers offer trinkets from north Africa and children’s toys. There are mini trumpets that the children in prams blow loudly as their parents push them through the crowds. There are plastic things that light up brightly when propelled into the air by elastic bands. They don’t last long – after three to four trips up in the air the elastic gives and the children cry. Another plastic gadget changes the sound of a voice when it is spoken through. There are glasses and ears and headbands that light up in flouro-colours. African women walk through the crowds in traditional dress with baskets on their heads. Make eye-contact and the baskets are whipped off to show the wares, hand made leather wrist-straps, elephant and camel key rings, fruit baskets that fold into a bread board shaped like an apple. The statue buskers stand still hoping for a few coins to be thrown to them. Others dress up and charge one or two euros for a photo with them. Sol’s Christmas light and decorations shine brightly and the Christmas tree stands tall and shines brightly in its ever-changing colours. People stop to take their photos in front of the tree – and while all of this is happening, the Madrid crowd surges past at its own pace with its own sound.

I looked around Sol before seeing more of the same in the Plaza Mayor. I moved with apprehension. Not because of the Madrid nightlife or its people but I knew the following morning I would leave for Paris. Paris – it is the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of my trip home. It is the beginning of resuming a normal life at home. This time, home will not be to pick up a few months work in a different city. This time home is back to Sydney. To live, to work, to once again be with family and friends. The apprehension stems from the knowledge that I will have to find work and to start life over again. My optimistic self is telling me it will be ok. The pessimist inside is rolling her eyes and sighing heavily. There is the nine-to-five to get used to again. The crowded public transport, the traffic, the people – yet before all of this, there will be Paris. I reminded myself about Christmas in Paris before one night in London and home on New Year’s Eve. It seems to appropriate to sleep the last night of 2017 in Australia and wake up and begin a new life again in 2018 on its very first day.

When Nina spoke with Rosita before leaving for Paris they listed off places Nina should visit in the future. Reflecting on where I have been, I thought I would make some lists.

Top seven places I visited during 2017 that I had never visited before

  • Seville
  • Granada
  • Lanzarote
  • Sicily
  • Dresden
  • Burgos
  • Naples

Top seven experiences

  • Walking the Camino – this will be number one for life
  • Climbing Mt Etna
  • Boating around the feet of Malta
  • Spending quality time with friends in Melbourne and Victoria
  • Meeting the Italian relatives in Molochio
  • Feeling like a Parisian
  • Driving around Lanzarote (don’t mention the guard rail!)

Worst seven experiences

  • Gibraltar – what a let down.
  • Taxi strike in Madrid
  • Hitting that guard rail with my little red car in Lanzarote
  • Avoiding all the cyclists that train in Lanzarote. I was pleased I avoided them it was just an added anxiety getting past them safely
  • My last dinner in Madrid
  • Loneliness that crept up on me at unexpected times.
  • My break-down on the Camino when the pain got too much

Places to visit or re-visit

  • Sicily
  • Seville
  • Lanzarote
  • The rest of the Canary Islands
  • Bilbao
  • San Sebastián
  • Granada

I guess that means I’ll be travelling to Spain again some day. Preferably not alone.

Adios Madrid. Adios Nina.

It is now my turn to leave Madrid. I feel after all the art and the Cathedrals and churches, I am no longer in need of divine inspiration. I need natural beauty and landscapes. I need inspiration of landform, and colour and light. I am off to the Canary Islands. I decide to take a taxi to the airport and call the taxi company. I have telephoned once before on my trip and it all went easily enough, despite my Spanish. This time however, something is amiss. I have no idea what the recorded message is tell met. I call again, the same rapid fire message leaves me reeling. I try one more time. Nothing.  I decide to walk up the street as I have seen taxis around close to my accommodation and also up the hill on the main street. There are no taxis. I wait ten to fifteen minutes. Ask a passing guy, he apologises and says to me that this is not his neighbourhood. I wait another five before crossing the road and standing near a bus stop.  A woman comes along, I ask her the best place to catch a taxi. “Aqui”, here she answers. I ask if I just wave them down, she replies yes. I wait, she jumps on the next bus and is out of there.  In the past ten days I have seen lots of taxis on this street. Today there is none. Another ten minutes go by and another woman arrives. I ask her the same question.  “Yes, here is the best place”, she tells me. I tell her I have been waiting a long time and none have passed by. I give her my phone, pressing in the last number I called and ask her to speak to the taxi company for me. She listens, speaks into the phone, hangs up, hands me back my phone and says “they are not working”. Now I am desperate, my Spanish is failing me, and I can feel the gastric juices of stress flooding my stomach. She keeps on and on, speaking to me in Spanish, helping me look. I can see the penny drop and she knows that I am right, there are no taxis. Her bus comes. She turns to me and says, “get on the bus with me, it goes to Sol, there are lots of taxis in Sol. If not, you can catch the train to Atocha, and then a then the metro to the airport. I jump on the bus with her. We sit next to each other and she keeps talking to me in Spanish. I have told her my Spanish is limited but this does not stop her. I catch a word, here and there and know that I have no choice but to trust this woman. When the bus arrives at Sol, she looks around, shakes her head and says “no taxis”. She tells me she will come down to the train station with me and help me. She works just over there, she tells me as she waves a vague hand towards the other side of Sol. Downstairs in the metro, she gets help from one of the station assistants, turns out the taxis have gone on strike but now I have two new friends helping me. Instructions are written on a piece of paper, I have a ticket, they both wish me “Buena suerte!”. I thank them both, especially the first woman. As I sit safely on the train, knowing I will make my plane I realise that in the end, Madrid did not disappoint. It came to my aid and helped me when I needed it most. Farewell Madrid. Farewell Nina.


Dear Dorothy, a letter from Seville

If you have lost a loved parent, or both, as I have – you will know what the feeling is like. You see something, or hear something, some old memory is jogged and you want to talk to them, tell them things. To tell them what it was you saw, what you heard or what remembered – but you can’t. This has happened a lot to me on my both my trips to Spain. I would love to call my mother or send her postcards and letters to tell her the things I see, the things she would love to see. Today, I have written to her from Seville.

Dearest mother,

I think about you a lot when I am travelling. Small things jog old memories. I always think of you when I walk into a church, which as I travel, is several times a day.

Nina describes this city as “Seville is like a laughing woman in a summer frock come in from raiding the garden with her arms full of flowers”. It is the truth. There is so much beauty in Seville it is difficult to take it all in. Around every bend in the road, around every twist in the passageways and around every corner of the laneways, there is something new to take in. The Cathedral, St Mary of the Sea – how dad would have loved that name – towers above all else. Its bell tower, once an Islamic minaret, stands tall in the old part of town. The buttresses fly high over the gargoyles and the line to visit winds around the streets. When Nina visited she saw the painting of Saint Dorothy by Zurbaran painted “in tafettas the colour of the bloom on purple grapes, with a scarf and panniers of gold striped with brown”. I went into the Cathedral today. I lined up forty minutes before it opened to avoid the queue. Once inside it was difficult to like the place. It is empty save for a chapels off to the side and behind the back main alter. The choir blocks much of the view. Nina complained about this too but again, she was lucky to be there when the organ was playing and the cannons singing at choir. I am luck if I go to a church and choral singing is being piped through the speakers.

I don’t know if they say mass there now but in the late 1800s apparently, 500 masses were said each day. I’m sure they do still celebrate mass for the local Catholics, but the main doors are for tourists to pay nine euro entry to walk around in. It feels a bit like being in an empty – but very grand – warehouse. With all the tourists it simply can not feel like a religious place of worship. Just a large empty shell. The main alter is a sight to behold when sitting in front of it. You really could spend hours looking at it. The tomb of Christopher Columbus is in the cathedral. It is impressive. His tomb is held high by four men representing the kingdoms of Spain during his life. Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon. Although apparently he was moved around quite a bit after death before ending up here in Seville. Nina was of the opinion Christopher would not have liked something so grand but I think he would have loved it.

It is difficult to see and appreciate the paintings in this cathedral. Everything is behind wrought iron fencing and gates with bad lighting – perhaps to protect the paintings – but all are difficult to see. I searched for St Dorothy but could not find her. I asked one of the attendants, who was no help at all. So I left – via the souvenir shop where I stopped I asked the senorita if they had a holy card of St Dorothy I could buy. They didn’t but I could purchase a recipe books for tapas.

I walked the streets looking at buildings being wowed by the different architecture until I stopped looking up and looked down. It was then the shops caught my eyes. Oh mother, how you would love them. There are shops with the most gorgeous fabrics. Plenty for you to choose from for your next dress. There are shops solely to sell priests garments and adornment. In another I spotted a bull fighter’s jacket along with some very flash handbags and remembered how you loved the dancing – and Paul Mecurio – in Strictly Ballroom.  Many shops sell the traditional dress of Seville. High Spanish combs worn under the mantilla are proudly on display. Some are very expensive, more that 150 euro each – but these are made from tortoise shell and mother of pearl. You can buy cheaper ones in plastic in the souvenir shops I remember when I was very young, in the late 1960s, how you would wear a mantilla (the lace scarf) over your head to church. Maybe that was just for special occasions but I do remember you wearing one. I could spend hours describing the beautiful jewellery and flamenco costumes but there are so many as soon as I have admired something, a new bauble has caught my eye.

I wonder into a grand old Spanish house owned by a noble Sevillian family owned by an old lady. It is built in the Arabic style with not one – but two court yards. The second has a mosaic tile Roman floor from the second century. We were taken into the family’s summer dining room. There are twelve chairs around the table, one for each of the lady’s sons. That many children – of course I had to say I was one of thirteen. I can imagine your face thinking of twelve sons and you of course, would have said you had thirteen. On my way back home I deliberately lost myself walking the narrow streets of the old Jewish quarter. If a pathway or a laneway looked interesting I would walk into it – without a care of where I would end up. I went up one that turned out to be a dead end. It ended in the front of the door to a house. I turned and walked back. About half way down I saw a way marker for the Camino – I laughed. You wouldn’t want to follow that one.

Yesterday I visited the Basilica of Jesus del Gran Poder. It is a circular church of mixed ages in both architecture and art. I like it. I spent some time looking at the paintings representing the Stations of the Cross. It is unusual to see Stations of the Cross in Spanish churches. They were relatively modern paintings, simple but good. There was also a picture of Jesus. It was huge and made up of a montage of people’s passport photos. It was great to look at from afar and then to get up close and look at all the people’s photos. I walked and looked at the alter and noticed two doors either side. One said ‘entrader’ entry the other ‘salida’ exit. Of course I wanted to see what the entry door led to. It went behind the alter and up a short flight of stairs. I thought I was going to have to hug-a-saint again, as I did in the Cathedral in Santiago. There was an elderly Spanish couple and their middle aged daughter in front of me. We were directly behind the alter where there is a sculpture of Jesus carrying the cross. This sculpture is a feature in the Santa Semana, Easter Week, celebrations in Seville – which are known as the best in Spain. People  believe miracles have occurred after touching the sculpture. The old Spanish woman in front of me was at Jesus first. He was all behind glass except for the heel of his right foot which protruded out. She was a small lady and she tried in vain to tippy-toe up as far as she could to kiss the heel. I looked on in shock. Surely they weren’t all kissing the foot? Again, she tried to stretch up. Again, she couldn’t reach. I tried not to laugh at her huge buck teeth sticking out from the kissing lips. Once more she tried, once more I tried not to laugh. She gave up. Kissed her fingers and put them on the heel of Jesus. Her husband, taller, bent down and kissed the heel. The daughter, kissed her hand and made the sign of the cross on the heel of Jesus. They turned to look at me. I stood there. What else could I do? There was no way I was going to kiss or touch that heel – not without hand sanitizer in my day day-pack.

I think, if I could talk to you, you would ask me “Don’t you get lonely, travelling by yourself?”. I don’t. Sometimes I feel alone but I never feel lonely. Last night I sat in a bar, having tapas and drinking a vino tinto. Suddenly it went from me being alone in the bar to being packed with Spanish people. I have a feeling Mass finished at the church across the road. All around me was a buzz of Spanish people talking – loudly – at and to each other. I could hear snippits of various conversations as I tried to work out words I recognised – “venga”, “escucha”, “diga” “espera” – come, listen, speak. wait. I feel that is what Seville says to me and, if I could mother, I would wait here in Seville for the rest of my days. It is such a place. It is such a place.

Much love,


Cadiz – a sea-wind blows.

I boarded the early morning bus in Estepona, sorry to be leaving however, it was only going to be a short break from Nina and it was on the route she took from Malaga to Cadiz. It is a pity she didn’t stop off at Estepona but I suspect it was nothing more than a fishing village in 1934. On her bus ride Nina describes – at length, the beauty of the Spanish landscapes. The colours, the flowers, the hill sides. Turns out eucalypts were her in Nina’s day. She writes “Outside of Marbella to my surprise Australian eucalypts line the approach, growing very splendidly and making a most decorative avenue. Indeed, the gum-tree is an example of the prophet who lacks honour in his own country, for Australia has not made such ornamental use of it as Spain, where as time went on I was to see many more avenues and groves of eucaplyts”.  Nina saw cane-fields outside of Malaga as well but I did  not see any. Either they are long gone or the road now takes a different route.

The bus takes us both back through Algeciras, where our original journey began. We have done a big circle for Nina to save money and continue in the same direction. On reaching Algeciras, the bus driver gets out of his seat and yells something to the passengers in Spanish. Many of the passengers start to bustle about with bags, yelling in conversation to each other. Those of us with little Spanish sit and look trying to work out what is going on. I understand one word “todas”, all of you. The bus driver makes his way down the aisle of the bus, still yelling Spanish words at us. He says “commer”, food, raising pinched fingers to his mouth. Finally, with the help of my limited Spanish, I work it out for me and my non-English speaking companions. I tell them the bus takes a break here for half an hour and we are to get off. One woman asks me if she is allowed to sit on the bus during this time. I tell her that does not seem possible and to take the opportunity for a rest break and to stretch her legs. The driver seems happy we have finally get the picture and are moving off the bus.

Back on the bus, the route now turns away from the Mediterranean and we now head inland. First we must travel travel through the ugly outskirts of Algeciras. Algeciras is a port town. Its large 1960s apartment blocks are a decaying eye-sore. Once in the country again the Spanish landscape is beautiful and we have left the over-development of the Costa del Sol behind us. At Tarifa, we begin skirting the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The coast here is known as Costa del Luz, the Coast of light. It is not difficult to understand why. It is raining yet the sun turns the ocean silver against the bruised, grey sky. The light and colour play magic scenes on the ocean, on the paddocks and on the forests. Sometimes it looks like you can see rainbows on the ground. There are paddocks with donkeys in them. Just as Nina witnessed on her travels. I see the same landscapes entering into Cadiz as Nina described. “From all this beauty of meadow and wood it was strange to come at last in the late afternoon to the low-lying salt-marshes that surround the rocky island on which stands the naval town of San Fernando. From these marshes the salt is obtained by evaporation. The whole locality is cut up into square depressions where the waster gathers and dries. It is a curious white countryside, flat except for the white houses and white pyramids of dried salt”. This area remains unchanged except I suspect the road is much wider now. The bus bumps along it, for although the road is now a modern, newish four lane highway, any road built over a marsh will bump and buckle and rise and sink with the marsh.

Entering Cadiz is on a “narrow, flat, sandy spit, after which you arrive in Cadiz through the most satisfyingly impressive entrance, driving under an ancient gateway, with old bastions six feet through crowing about it. Some of it crumbling. But they are imposing, picturesque; right for a place with the history of Cadiz. Cadiz that was well-known in King Solomon’s time, and is so ancient a site the Greeks declared Hercules to have built the first city founded there”. My bus runs along the same sandy spit with the Atlantic Ocean on your left, then the road, then the train lines and then the Bay of Cadiz to the right. I enter through the historic gate just as Nina did. I smile to myself, it is no longer crumbling but ask myself if, and how, it has changed.

I start to make my way on foot to my accommodation, Case de Caracol – the snail’s house. So called after the monchillas (shells) or backpacks. I take a wrong turn out of the bus terminal and come across two men. The young one is holding what I think is a replica gun – I hope it is a replica because it looks awfully real – behind an older man’s head. The older guy is kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head. In careful, slow, precision movements, the older guy kneeling takes the gun from the young guy, explaining each of his slow actions. Ah, grasshopper! It is obviously a self defence/krav magna tutorial for the younger guy. I stay to watch them for a while and to pick up some free useful tips. Although I hope not to be held up at gunpoint.

Nina is in love with what is left of the ancient history of Cadiz which began in around 1,100 BC but she laments the lack of evidence of the Phoenicians . She says “except for those bastions and a few fragments of the old harbour-works, remain to draw the attention of the casual visitor”. For this she blames the English, Sir Frances Drake and English Lord Essex of “plundering the town so savagely it had to be rebuilt”. It is still a nice town with impressive buildings from the 17th – 20th centuries. It simply is just not the ancient town it could have been today. I visited the old Roman ampithetre today – or what remains of it. The theatre was only discovered during excavation in the 1980s. Nina would not have known or seen this. Yet it was something extraordinary just below the surface of Cadiz.

Nina’s experience was that the people of Cadiz “accept strangers casually, and beggars are rare”. I have found the Spanish people here a little harder to deal with and there are now beggars everywhere. It is a city that fills up during the day with three or more cruise ships in the port. It is also a haven for backpacking surfers chasing the last of the summer sun rather than tourists wanting to see and learn of it ancient history. I walk around feeling the sea breeze slip up the streets from the Atlantic so that it calls me to its fortifications along the ocean. I walk until I can no longer find shade to walk in as the sun is now high and hot. I scurry off to the cool laneways to find my way back to the old centre of town.

I visit the Cathedral, as Nina did. Although she visited when the ‘cannons’ were at their singing and there was no-one else in the Cathedral apart from two little girls. There were no priests or canons singing on my visit, the choir seats were empty except for the tourists listening in on their audio guides to the information about the 41 seats, the type of wood used, the carving and the architects. It is a fairly boring and bland Cathedral compared to most others I have seen. It is a huge, cavernous structure with what looks to be like fishing nets stretching below the vaulted ceilings and archways. I figured the fishing nets were to catch any falling bits and pieces of rock and mortar from falling on the tourists that walk around its cavern by the dozens.

Nina spent just a day in Cadiz but she wrote that she will always remember “the touch of the sea-wind blowing up a narrow street that I feel upon my cheek”. I am still unsure if I like Cadiz or not but I know one thing – I too will remember that sea-wind on my cheek.

Picasso, all saints, history and sunshine

I don’t have the patience for Picasso. Don’t misunderstand me. I like his work and he rightfully holds his place in the art world – but I get a bit bored of much of his work quite quickly. Perhaps I don’t have the right attitude or perhaps I am being deliberately obtuse when it comes to his work. I thought I would test out my theory and go to the Picasso museum in Malaga today. He was born here in Malaga but his family moved away to the north of Spain when he was about ten years old. His socialist leanings, his painting of Guernica – one of my favourite paintings – forced him into exile in France during the reign of Franco’s dictatorship. Still Malaga claims Picasso as its own.

Last night, I took in a sunset drink on a roof top. I went home early, not just to get up early, but to avoid the Halloween festivities that were happening on every street. Today is All Saints Day. In the Catholic church, it is a Holy Day of Obligation which means you must attend Mass. In Spain they take it one step further and it is a Public Holiday. Lucky for me as this means Spaniards get up even later than they would normally, so I am off to the Picasso Museum without much of a crowd. In fact, the streets are almost deserted with the exception of the odd stray cat. Apart from the permanent Picasso exhibition there is a second, temporary, exhibition ‘We are completely free’. I get the double pass to see both exhibitions. I walk around the galleries looking at Picasso until I spot a sign and a staircase going down. The sign says “Archaeological Site”. I go down the stairs. I am the only person there. The silence is beautiful. I had not realised that the ground beneath the museum preserves important evidence of Malaga’s past. Malaga is the second oldest city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. The Phoenicians and the Carthaginians were here well before the Romans. There are exceptional Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains, as well as those of the Renaissance palace. In Australia, I get excited about bits and pieces that have been dug up from sites that date back to the early days of the colony. Here on display was not just the ancient bricks and stones of houses, the ancient bricks and pavers of Roman roads, or the ancient embedded earthen jars for storage of food and water but there were other fragments of Malaga’s history some dating back to the seventh century BC. I walked around the walkway taking it all in with just the sounds of my footsteps and my breath.

Once, I finish marvelling at history, I visit the temporary exhibition ‘We are completely free’. It is an exhibition of women artist and surrealism. It is an astonishing, international collection of art created by women who would have been painting around the time Nina was touring Spain. Now I am marvelling at the achievements of woman who lived in a man’s world of the 20s and 30s. Nina included.

I walk back out into the sunshine and onto the palm shaded streets. Malaga has – on average – 350 days of sunshine every year. The smell of the river, canals and drains are further proof of this fact. It is now almost midday and the Spanish people are coming out, hitting the cafes for breakfast, which will then turn into lunch before returning home in the evening and coming out again at 9:00 or 10:00 pm for dinner. I can’t manage this. I have been trying to get into and onto Spanish time but years of conditioning of the nine to five (plus) make it difficult. I head back to my room to work on the logistics for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I am taking a break from Nina. After all I am completely free and it’s good to take a break from your travel companion once and a while. My friend Jan, from the Camino, recommended I visit Estepona. It is on the way but I am cursing Nina and her reluctance to travel backwards in the same direction. She has me travelling in what is essentially the size of a big six. Starting from the inside and doing a big circle before shooting up to the north east for Madrid. I shall meet up again with Nina in Cadiz. Nina spent just one night there but I hear it is worth staying a few nights. After all, Cadiz is the oldest city in Spain.

Malaga – you surprised me but you did not disappoint.

I had zero expectations of Malaga. In fact, after the love I found in – and for Granada, my expectations were below zero. I had thought that given the amount of Brits living here it would be a built up, apartment/residential town. I think too that Nina added to my negative expectations.

Nina’s journey began on her bus ride from Granada to Malaga. By all accounts it was a wild ride down steep hair-pin curves, where goat herds and goat herders would have to scramble either down, or up, the steep mountain-side as the “great bus would round a corner suddenly”. The road, according to Nina ran “perilously close to the edge of the stony steep that fell away into the valleys – the great valleys with mall lone hills set about in them”. She laughs at a “little fat man in front of me, leaning forward, with both ands an desperate expression, to grip the back of the next sear everytime we came to a fresh corner”. My sleek, modern coach drives smoothly down the auto via – which would not have been here in 1934. I looked for signs of the old road Nina described and every now and then fancy I would catch a glimpse of it. I think of what a bus in 1934 would have looked like and I cannot conjure one up in my mind. I make a mental note to google 1934 bus when I reach Malaga. So comfortable is the new modern coach travel that now one clutches the seat in desperation but rather sleeps or looks at their phones. In no time at all, we arrive safely in Malaga having not seen one goat herd.

Nina wrote that she would “always remember Malaga, because there, for the first time in my life, I had a curse put upon me”. For the first time she was happy not to speak any other language than English – so she could not know what the curse was. I have not received a curse here – yet – and obviously hope not to. Alas, however, I find another difference between Nina and me. Nina says “Malaga’s Cathedral is thrilling outside, but not so very beautiful inside, except for its vastness and the line of round arches of its rosette-studded vaulting”. I found it to be very beautiful inside and out. Like Nina, I sat in there for quite a long time. Like Nina “there steals upon you a quietude, a serenity of mind the secret of which is almost lost nowadays”. Nina wrote that in 1934 – imagine what she would have thought of modern life in 2017!

“Malaga is surprisingly modern after Granada”, both Nina and I have found this. Nina appreciated how progressive it was and there was much less staring from the Spanish. I enjoyed Malaga as it is a much less tourist destination. One that doesn’t have a ‘tourist area’ but where locals, ex-pats and tourists all intermingle on the streets and in bars and cafes.  Nina found Malaga as one of the nosiest towns in Spain. I think all of Spain is noisy now. She would not have had to put up with the noise of motor-bikes everywhere. Surprisingly, that is all Nina had to say about Malaga. I have found Malaga to be a beautiful old town. So much of its history and its beauty has been retained, despite the revolution, despite the Civil War, despite the English and despite modern development. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and went out for a walk. Unfortunately, I walked in the wrong direction from the town and did wander into the modern suburbs, built in the 70s and 80s. This did my low expectations no great favours. On Monday morning, I walked in right direction and found the town. Before long I was in the inevitable maze of narrow laneways and streets, unsure of my direction. All of a sudden I was in a square and the Cathedral rose majestically in front of me. People sat drinking coffee and orange juice while eating toast or dipping their churroz into cups of thick Spanish chocolate.

From the outside of the cathedral you can notice it only has one corner tower. The other remains unfinished. There are several theories to this which Spanish historians argue about. One is that the Bishop of Malaga gave away the money for the second tower for America to fight against the British during the American War of Independence. Spain and Great Britain at the time, were great enemies. Another theory is the money was given by the Bishop to build a road, important for trade, over the mountains out of Malaga to connect with the rest of Spain. Of course, there are those who believe the Bishop simply kept the money for himself. Whatever the reason, the debate today is on whether they should finish the Cathedral by building the final tower or leave it has it has now been for centuries.

Even though it is autumn in Spain, the days are still hot. The afternoon sun still stings. When I walk, I follow the shade. Always the shade. It is easy to do in the narrow Spanish laneways. So build for this purpose, to keep the houses and streets cool on the hottest summer days. The maze element was to confuse any armies who thought it a good idea to attack. The narrow streets also did not make it easy for any attacking army to go through more than one or two men together. There is still an ancient Roman amphitheatre here in Malaga. However, it is less than impressive, especially after the extraordinary large one with extraordinary views out to Mt Etna, that I sat in at Palermo, Sicily. I am yet to see better than that but suspect I will not.

Palaces and politics

I spent days eyeing off the Alhambra from every level. From the narrow street below. From the view of St Nicolas, from the terrace of my accommodation. I ‘eyed it off’ at all times of the day and night. I had walked beneath its shade and past it on the hop on/hop off bus/train. I went up to go in, only to see the ‘Sold Out’ sign – and again walk beneath its shade through the forest back home. From all of those levels, whatever time of day it looks like a fort. Its walls a golden orange colour in both sun light and in moon shine. The thing about the Alhambra is – that it is not a fort. It was once a great city. A city to approximately 2,000 people. Now it is a tourist attraction that caters to over 9,000 visitors a day. Little wonder the ‘Sold Out’ sign is on permanent exhibition.

Finally, I was there. Ticket in hand at 7:30 am. It was still dark. I had caught a taxi up from the main square, rather than walk up through the forest in the dark. After all, when Nina had gone up in the dark to experience a night time festival, she and her guide heard the Civil Guard shooting at people. By the time our group got through the gate it was after 8:00 am and the sun was beginning to shine. Our first stop was the Generalife – the Sultan’s summer palace. We walked through the most beautiful gardens to get there. These are not the original gardens but came much later and in the style of Versailles – except a lot smaller. There were pathways and alcoves. Pines cut into the shape of walls and archways. Coloured flowers everywhere. There were huge, old magnolia trees, it would be magnificent to see them in flower. The Generalife itself is beautiful. Totally white with carved timber ceilings, faded tiles and Moorish door ways and windows. We see rooms that are merely alcoves off the halls, open to the air to catch the summer breeze. The Sultan and his wives would have slept in these rooms during the heat of the relentless Spanish summer. The gardens with their fountains and ponds would give cool respite during the day.

We then walked into the Alhambra. Past the stone footings of old houses that villagers lived in. Nina refers to the Alhambra as an “airy, fairy palace” that has a “bijou quality, slightly irritating because of its childishness artistically. And there is bad taste too, especially in the colouring of the tiles that decorate the walls – in their really in-artistic greens and blue and browns which must have been even worse before the centuries toned down the crudeness of the colours. (And if you consider this a heresy, you must please forgive me and go and have another look for yourself!)”. Oh Nina! Later redeeming herself – in my eyes – by writing “I hardly know which is more potent at the Alhambra, the charm within its walls or the lure of looking beyond them through the fairy frames its window make – those narrow, arched windows sometimes in pairs separated by a slender and diminutive column of alabaster and bordered with a white stucco embroidery of jasmine-flowers and tiny shells and the lovely, fluent, ancient script whose rhythm seems one with the sound of the fountain’s flowing”. The script she refers to is in Arabic and translated it is “There is no conqueror but God”. Strange in a land that has been conquered and has been a conqueror.

Nina wrote that is “is possible to ‘do’ the Alhambra in an hour. I don’t think so. You would see hardly anything as there is so much to see and to feel. Like Nina, I also believe that you need time “to stand and to stare”, or as I preferred to find a seat and to stare.

Nina had her own guide in Granada who took her around and showed her the sights of the town and the Alhambra. He was a young Socialist who told her that the Spanish revolution was not far off. He told her how the people were hungry and that despite the strictest laws against the possession of firearms, every worker had a gun hidden somewhere. The intention, he told her, was “to aim at a bloodless revolution, but if that ideal were not realized the firearms would have to talk”. It was from this man Nina learned of the bitter hatred the people bore towards the Guardia Civil. I learnt of the peoples hatred for the Civil Guard many years later through Spanish friends and families. Many people here in Spain have not forgotten the Civil War. Stories of horror and atrocities are passed down through the generations. Recent television footage of the Civil Guards beating people in the streets of Barcelona, was abhorrent yet not surprising to many Spaniards. During Nina’s time, if a “man’s politics might be troublesome; he would be arrested on some trumped-up charge, and the next thing you heard was that he had been shot by the Civil Guard while attempting to escape”. Usually, the guards would tell the man, his arrest had been a mistake and he was free to go. The moment he turned to leave, they would shout after him, take aim and shoot him in the back. I had heard a story of a pregnant woman who would not reveal to the Guardia where her husband was. He was suspected of being a republican during the Civil War. As she would not tell them where he was, they poured olive oil into her throat. Her husband was indeed a republican but she honestly had no idea where he was.

I have thought about Nina’s politics as I have read through her journey. She was a trail blazer for her time. One day she was sent to report a meeting of the Senate at Melbourne. The Usher of the Black Rod spied her in the Press Gallery and sent a messenger asking her to ‘withdraw’. Apparently, a friendly pressman intervened with an explanation that she was a journalist and so ended the “unwritten law that a woman should not penetrate to the Senate Chamber”. She worked on newspapers, travelled alone as a woman, started the Argonauts Club on the ABC, which some baby-boomers may remember. I would have thought Nina to be a feminist and an education liberal. Yet again, she was a product of her times. Nina was first and foremost a citizen of the British Empire and when her young guide told her “The Government must be made to see all these things … There must be dole for the unemployed. The children must be properly fed and properly educated”, Nina was “afraid some of the things which he secretly pleased my hunger for the picturesque will be swept away if he ever gets his way in Spain”. Perhaps more of a political conservative than I had imagined.

During my tour of the Alhambra I was surprised to find something Nina did not mention in her account, the Palace of Carlos V. Carlos wanted a residence befitting an emperor. It is a large palace out of sync with the rest of the Alhambra. It is a much more modern, Renaissance building. Large stones make up the outside square shape of the building. Inside there is a courtyard yet it is round, like a bull-ring. The palace was never completed, its rooms never decorated. Carlos V and his wife, Isabella, never lived there. It is a folly. Carlos V abdicated, left Spain bankrupt and retired to live alone in a secluded monastery. I suspect Nina – unlike me – was also a monarchist.

Wandering about in Ronda

On the afternoon of my arrival, I did what Nina did. I walked around the streets exploring. Through the narrow passageways and laneways of the cobblestoned streets of the old town. I looked at the incredible  breath-taking rural views of the Gorgo de Tajo and the rural landscapes out past the gorge. With hundreds of other tourists, I crossed the Puente Nuevo, the new bridge. Puente Nuevo was started in 1759 and took almost 35 years to build. It spans the 120 metre deep chasm of the gorge created by the River Guadalevin.

Then I visited some of the old houses and palacios – the Casa Don Bosco, house of St John Bosco, with beautiful gardens and stunning views. You can only visit two rooms of the house which are more like religious shrines than liveable rooms. I went to the hanging gardens and walked around as the tourists started to thin out. Most tourists that visit Ronda are day tourists, bussed in by luxury coach from Granada, Gibraltar, Sevilla and Cordoba. They get off the coach, walk over the bridge several times, take photos with their selfie sticks and walk through the old town before following the flag, or the upheld umbrella to the designated restaurant for lunch. By twilight they have gone. This is when Nina went out walking in the rain.  I look up at the sky, large, bruised clouds threatened rain but it did not happen. I was left high and dry on my last walk over the bridge for the evening.

Nina, stayed somewhere near the gorge in a room that contained a bed, a basin and a rocking chair which she loved. She could hear the rush of the river as it pelted its way through the gorge. The river is a mere trickle at the moment and I do not get the spray as I hand my head over the bridge looking at the gorge below.

The next day, I visit Casa del Rey Moro which Nina tells me “nearly 900 years ago dwelt a Moorish chieftain with a bizarre taste in drinking cups. He had the skulls of his enemies set with jewels and fashioned into goblets”. When Nina visited the house was owned by a Duchess who had the place “skilfully restored”. It must have fallen into ruin since Nina visited, perhaps during the Spanish Civil war as it is again under restoration and I could not visit the house. I could visit the gardens where peacocks and the chicks wander around avoiding the stray cats and kittens. Although it may be the other way around.

I visit the bullring, one of the oldest in Spain built in 1784. It is beautiful. Bull-fighter aficionado and writer, Ernest Hemingway also visited Ronda. In his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway describes the execution of Nationalist supporters being thrown from the cliffs, this was based on killings that took place from the cliffs of Ronda. He also described Ronda as one of the most romantic cities in the world and it must be for a blokey bloke like Ernest to describe it as such.

The following morning I walk down the gorge to a place that is illustrated in Nina’s book. I want a photo of the same location. Walking down the path takes me back to my Camino days and I curse leaving my sticks back in Australia and giving my boots to a homeless person in Paris. My toes were so black and sore at the time I never wanted to put my feet in them again. They would have been welcomed on this walk down. The steps start off ok but soon disintegrate into goat tracks and river beds. I get to the spot about three quarters of the way down, take a photo and contemplate walking to the very bottom. The path by now is pretty bad so I decide to go back up. My calves burn and my knees ache.

On my return to Australia, I had told people that I had no problem walking the Camino de Santiago, with my knees. “They were fine”, I would proclaim. Not so. As I lay in bed that night I remembered how they would ache at night. Something I had wiped from my memory. Two voltarian and an extra strength Spanish Panadol would dull the pain at night and prior to walking each day. How could I have forgotten this?

By this morning, my knees felt better, so off I went to walk the city walls and ramparts, built by the Moors. I walked up steep, high steps – about knee high – and only slightly wider than me. No hand rails, no safety nets. I am not great with high places at the best of times, so I clung to the wall like a huge crab. Once up, I walked the lengths of the bits left. Stopping to enjoy the view and look at the openings were soldiers protected the city from any advancing army. I walked back into the town.

When Nina travelled in 1934, Spain was in a very sad state. She describes the begging children, in every town, in every street.  They call to her “Mon-ee! Mon-ee” and describes show they twiddle their fingers in “approved Spanish fashion”.  She goes on to say “For the impertinent insistence of begging children, the revolting methods of grown-up beggars, and the numbers of the importunate the poor are always with us”. To date, I have not seen too many beggars, the odd older man asking for some money to eat or others silently standing on a street corner with a cup or cupped hands. Last night I was accosted by children after money. However,  were in school uniforms and carried what looked to be official donation buckets, and they were collecting donations for their Catholic school. If a person donated they were given a sticker, to ensure they were not asked again my their classmates further down the square.

This morning I visited the church of Santa Maria la Mayor. When Nina was searching to visit this church she first accidentally went to the church of Santa Cecilia. In this church she was outraged by the Cathedral’s guidebook standing “in the same glass case as Alonso Cano’s exquisite ivory Crucifixion”. I wonder what she would have made of the Tapas recipe books on sale at the church of Santa Maria la Mayor, along with all the other souvenirs. Nina went to Santa Maria because “for a peseta and a half you are allowed to gaze upon an arched doorway and the capitals of two pillars ornamented with Arabic designs”, all that remains of a mosque the Moors built over a Visigoth temple. Nina was not too impressed, and neither was I. Now four and a half euros to enter, the door is mainly covered and it is only if you look carefully you can see the very top of it behind glass. The entry fee allows you to go up the stone spiral staircase to the bell tower, once the minarete of the mosque. I started up but my knees were complaining and my fear of heights not happy. So I stopped on the first level. Nina had walked to the top with her guide. When they reached the top her guide ‘bade’ her to “lean over and look down. There below, so that I looked clear down the core of it, hung the stone railing, like the skin of a neatly peeled apple”. I looked up and could see exactly what Nina was saying.

Next on my list, in following Nina, was to be a mule ride to see the sights of Ronda outside the township. I could not find a tour offering mule or a donkey sight-seeing tours. I could take one by jeep but it was fully booked and the dune buggies were just way too expensive. I think the noise of dune buggies would not have suited Nina’s sensibilities or mine so chose not to do it this way.  I could do a taxi but that just seemed too modern. After thinking it through, I decided not to do anything. Nina’s tour consisted of her guide waving his hand towards some particularly beautiful hillside crying, “Look over theah!” and then add, “’Sluvly, isen it”. He would then tell Nina how English women adored Spanish men.

“They come ovah heah because the lov Spanish men. They lov them! … you will see how good-lookeeng the Spanish men can be. I will tell you! Theah was a lady, an English lady; not middle-class – or no! She belonged to the high-life, the aristocracy … and she came here to Ronda and stayed at the Hotel C_____. And she fell in lov with one of the mozos – one of the waiters, you understand? She was mad about heem.”

Nina’s guide tells her that the English lady invited the waiter into her room one morning when no one was about.  Nina asks him if the waiter went in, he replied “Why would he not? He was not a cold Englishman! He was Spanish, and very good lookeeng!” Throughout Nina’s trip she hears stories of this kind, sometimes the woman would be American, sometimes English. They didn’t go to Spain for the art or architecture but for a “romantic adventure with a Spaniard; the Spanish men, of course, being noted for their good looks and their irresistible manner of making love!” I suspect Nina thinks the Spanish men are full of themselves.

I don’t know how long Nina spent in Ronda but three days are enough for me. Tomorrow Nina and I travel to Granada.