Andalucia: Fifty shades of white

Andalucia: 50 shades of white

If Eskimos have 30 words for snow, then Spaniards must have 50 words for WHITE!

If you like white villages, you’ll LOVE these:

Canillas de Aceituno                                          Frigiliana

Cómpeta                                                                 Comares

Málaga Feria: They’ll be Dancing in the Street

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria  [Image credit: Manolo Gómez Flickr CC]

Even the smallest village here in Andalucía has it’s own fiesta or feria, but today sees the final day of the BIGGEST PARTY OF ALL (well, around these parts at least) – the Málaga Feria!   

Held every year during August to commemorate the reclaiming of the city from the Moors by the Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) on 18th August 1487, the Málaga feria is one of the largest fairs in Spain with millions of people joining the fun throughout the week.

Many daytime activities take place on the main shopping street - Calle Marques de Larios, Picasso’s birth-place – Plaza de la Merced and throughout the historic centre of the city from noon until  around 8pm each day.  There are open-air bars to tempt passers-by with sherry, delicious sweet Málaga wine and tapas while the sound of music fills the air.

Many people dress in traditional costume and spontaneous demonstrations of flamenco dancing often break out in the street.  

Yesterday, it was a joy to wander around the city, soaking up the party atmosphere before heading to the Bodega Bar El Pimpi for a spot of lunch.  El Pimpi seems to get bigger and bigger every time I go, with it’s warren of rooms and outdoor terraces, which were all packed with feria-goers.  The inside walls of the bar are decorated with photographs of famous visitors and historic posters of ferias past.  You can also see the enormous barrels signed by some celebrity patrons including former UK prime minister, Tony Blair and, one of Málaga’s famous sons, film-actor Antonio Banderas.

Tradition then dictates a short siesta before heading to the outskirts of the city (next to the Palacio de Congresos building, near the airport) for La Feria de la Noche (the night fair), which starts very slowly around ten in the evening and continues all night, until the break of dawn.

Here you will find hundreds of marquees (known as casetas) scattered throughout the fairground where you can enjoy more drinks and food, whilst dancing to the sound of both modern and flamenco music.

And, if like me, you LOVE fairground rides, then you can be flung here, there and everywhere on some wild, mechanical rides or take a gentle journey on the huge ferris wheel, for great views across the feria.

There are shuttle buses throughout the night from city centre to the fairground.

 Would you like to join in the party next year?  

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay: Marina del Este

Mackerel Rock at Marina del Este

Mackerel Rock at Marina del Este

Just a few miles to the east of Maro and Nerja, situated between the towns of La Herradura and Almuñecar lies one of the few marinas along the southern coastline of Spain, Marina del Este.  

The Marina (also known as Puerto Deportivo Punta de la Mona) was developed in the 1980s around a large natural rock formation known as Peñón de las Caballas (Mackerel Rock) and features a small attractive harbour protected by the pine-clad promontory of the Punta de la Mona.  

Marina del Este on Google Earth

Google Earth view of the Marina

Located in a privileged setting where the peaks of the Sierra de Almijara finally slope into the sea, this area is known for the exceptional quality of its seabed, immersed within the Parque Natural de los Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo (a Natural and Marine Reserve) which has been declared of important ecological value by UNESCO.  

The Reserve follows a narrow twelve kilometre coastal strip and extends into the Alboran Sea (covering 395 land and 1,415 sea hectares), spanning the provinces of Málaga and Granada.  

A ban on fishing within the Marine Reserve provides the perfect place for snorkelling and scuba-diving in the crystal-clear waters.

View across La Herradura Bay

View across La Herradura Bay

How to get to Marina del Este

Do yourself a favour and take the old N-340 coastal road from Nerja to the Marina (rather than the motorway) for the spectacular views across the horseshoe-shaped bay of La Herradura whilst passing the unique and dramatic coastline created by the steep cliffs (acantilados) along the way.  If you have time, you might consider calling in at one of the few sheltered coves between the soaring cliffs, where you will need to take a staircase or steep track down to the beach.

As you might expect, Marina del Este is not directly off the road and can be a bit tricky to find by car. To access it you need to turn off the N-340 just after Km 309 (signed for Pto. Deportivo Marina del Este) and bear right into the Punta de la Mona urbanisation.   Follow the road downhill until you see a sign ahead pointing left towards the Marina.  Turn left here past the 4* Hotel Best Alcazar and continue down the hill all the way to the bottom, where there is a free car park.

If all the free parking spots are taken, there is an official car park to the right of the entrance of the Marina, where it costs just €3.50 to park for 24 hours.

Entrance to Marina del Este

Entrance to Marina del Este

As you enter the Marina, turn to the right just past the barrier and follow the promenade towards Mackerel Rock, past all the beautiful boats.

I usually bring a loaf of bread with me to feed to the fishes here.  They are always so hungry and entertaining, as they climb over one another to get to the food!

Feeding frenzy at Marina del Este

Feeding frenzy

Once you’ve walked past Mackerel Rock there are some steps up onto the harbour wall, which is a great place for “watching the ships roll in, and then watch ‘em roll away again”.

As you walk along the harbour wall you get an elevated view over the boats and spectacular views across to Almuñecar and, as you near the end of the wall, you will see the Blue Flag (currently for 2014/2015) flying near to the entrance of the harbour.

If you are interested in chartering a boat for a few days, this is the best place to look.  Or, maybe you just want to take a boat excursion for an hour or two around the Cerro Gordo Marine Reserve and to the hidden coves along the coastline, which can also be arranged.

There are several diving clubs based at Marina del Este and good snorkelling from the adjoining Playa de los Berengueles, near to the car park.

For boat owners, there are 227 berths within the marina (to a maximum length of 35 metres), and all the services you would expect, including a fuel berth, boat hoist (up to 6m), chandlers, mechanics, hardstanding etc.   More information from Marinas del Mediterráneo.

However, if like me, you just want to stroll around the harbour drooling over the beautiful boats, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the great views across to Almuñecar, then Marina del Este is a great place to while away a few hours, both during the daytime or in an evening.

There is an art gallery, shops and a great selection of bars and restaurants all with outdoor seating, where you can enjoy a cool drink, tapas or a meal.

Yes, I’m pretty sure that even Otis Redding would enjoy sitting on the dock of this particular bay! 

 

Space Oddity: Searching the Night Sky for the International Space Station

International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132 (Public Domain)

One of the joys of a hot, summer evening for me is the opportunity to have a swim after the sun goes down, before hopping into bed.  I always make sure that there are no outside lights shining from the house and, because we live in the countryside where there is virtually no light pollution, on a clear night it’s a great place for star-gazing. 

The most awe-inspiring sight has to be the Milky Way, the luminescent band of light made up entirely of stars, clearly visible in the Andalucían night sky.

There are other cosmic masterpieces to be seen at certain times of the year when our planet Earth passes through bands of dust and debris that circle the Sun.  We see these as meteor showers, and a perfect example is the Perseids (a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle), which occurs around the 12th August each year.    Once again, I will be floating in the pool, watching these tiny fragments of space dust hurtling into our atmosphere at enormous speed, before burning up, to provide magnificent celestial fireworks.  

Much slower are our own Earth-launched satellites which drift lazily by.   There are so many satellites circling the planet these days, that you can usually spot one within a few minutes.  Their speed is deceptive though, because the satellites are very high, they actually have to maintain about 18,000 miles per hour to remain in orbit.

640px-STS-116_spacewalk_1Image credit: STS-116 spacewalk 1 by NASA (Public Domain)

But the object I’m always fascinated to see tracking overhead is the International Space Station – a man-made habitable satellite which serves as a microgravity research laboratory.

Flying at 27500 kilometres per hour (that’s an average speed of 7.65 kilometres per second), the ISS maintains its orbit at an altitude of between 330 km and 435 km.  With an approximate size of 110 x 70 x 20 metres, the International Space Station (ISS) reflects plenty of sunlight and is usually the second brightest object in the night sky (after the moon), so is easily visible with the naked eye.  

14797031062_180d1002fe_zImage credit: NASA Flickr CC

Just look at the amazing view from the ISS!

One of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station recorded the above amazing photograph of the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) on July 26, 2014.  Part of France can be seen at the top of the image and the Strait of Gibraltar is visible at bottom, with a very small portion of Morocco visible near the lower right corner.

I’d LOVE to take photos through this window!

640px-STS130_cupola_view1Image credit: NASA STS130 cupola view (Public Domain)

How can you get a good view of the International Space Station as it passes overhead?

Well, the first thing you should do is try to get away from the light pollution of a town or city, on a clear night.  If there is cloud cover you are unlikely to see anything.

The ISS looks like an incredibly bright, fast-moving star which can easily be mistaken for an aircraft.  What distinguishes it from an aircraft is that it has no flashing lights.  The light we see from the ISS is reflected sunlight, meaning that the best time to observe the craft is in the evening, not long after sunset or in the early morning, before sunrise.  

The next thing you should know is that the ISS always passes overhead starting from a westerly part of the sky, but not always from the same point.  It can be low on the horizon for some passes and very high for others.

640px-STS-129_Zvezda_sunriseImage credit: NASA STS-129 Zvezda sunrise

When can you observe the International Space Station from where you are?

To see the current position of the International Space Station click HERE.  Once you click through to that page, not only can you see what the astronauts can see, you can also view the ground track of the next orbit of the ISS.

Next, you need to click HERE and at the top right of the upcoming page you will see a box that says “Your location” and underneath that the default location is shown as New York City.  

Type YOUR location in the box, hit SEARCH and you’ll get something like the image below.  (This is the image I found last night when I did the same thing – that’s why it shows Spain).

ISS visible pass over Spain

So now you can see a list of the next sighting opportunities for YOUR location (on the left of the page), with the green bars indicating the brightness of the ISS on its pass.  The list contains all visible passes of the ISS during the next ten days.  If you select a particular pass, you can get more information about it.

In the photo above, you can see that for my location in Cómpeta, Spain there was an ISS pass last night (Friday August 8th) at 9.44pm lasting 5 minutes and 29 seconds with 2 green bars for brightness.  My next best chance to view the ISS is next Saturday night (16th August) at 11.19pm.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen the ISS.  Do you watch for it regularly?  I know I do!