My Grandparents have lived in South Africa for the greater part of their later lives, and when I was 10, I spent the entire summer holidays in Cape Town with them. They have since moved around a little, but with declining health and a few problems in Cape Town, they made the decision to move back to Europe. We hadn’t seen them in over 3 years, so this years Christmas present was flights for my family to go and visit them in southern Spain.
The plan was to fly out on Friday night, and make it to their house in time for Christmas day on Monday. Unfortunately, a plane skidded off the runway at Bristol Airport and many flights were cancelled. We waited as the runway reopening time got pushed back, until we finally realised we weren’t boarding a plane that night. The airport was chaos, but I managed to speak to a few members of airport staff and get on the phone to rebook with our airline. The earliest flights I could get where for Boxing Day; it meant missing Christmas in Spain, but I was happy to get flights at all during the holiday period. Luckily my family have some fantastic friends, and we were taken in for Christmas Day (a huge thank you to the Negus family!)
Take two, and we headed up to Luton airport. This time we were successful and landed in Spain early Tuesday evening. We picked up the hire car, and heading up towards the mountains, to the little town of Mollina to meet the Grandparents.
We spent Wednesday exploring the area and shopping for food. Having been to Spain before on fieldwork, I disappeared to hunt down my favourite Spanish treats. I got some apprehensive looks as I dropped several boxes of dinosaur biscuits and cakes into the family trolley! We wandered around Mollina, in the bright Spanish sun, taking in the views of Christmas decorations and mountains. I also had my first experience driving on the opposite side of the road!
We got up early on Thursday morning with the aim of visiting El Torcal de Antequera, a mountain park known for its unusual and spectacular limestone formations. I’d love to tell you about the fascinating geology of the place, but sadly, as we drove higher up the mountains the cloud bank lowered, and we couldn’t see a cars length in front of us. We had to abandon our plans and instead detoured to a nearby wolf park – Lobo park. This place was awesome! We joined a group for a guided tour around the park and got to see the wolfs up close! The aim of the park is to take in rescue animals and to study wolfs in larger, more natural enclosures. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable; originally from Italy, she passionately passed on facts in Spanish, English and occasionally Italian! I love hearing so many languages spoken within a small group of people! I bought a box of local rocks from the gift shops; a combination of family and bad weather suggested this would be as close to geologising as I would get on this trip! The wolf park was still high up in the mountains, so we headed to the nearby town Antequera, to grab a coffee and warm up. Here we also met the three kings, sat in the square talking to children. The kings’ arrival at Jesus’s birth is celebrated in Spain as well as Christmas.
On Friday we spent another morning in Mollina. I managed to drive into the town without causing too much chaos! We had lunch with my grandparents in a dinner, where my Spanish finally came in useful as the staff spoke little English! In the afternoon we headed to a beautiful lake – Laguna de Fuente de Piedra or Flamingo Lake. The nature reserve had a lovely visitor centre and some beautiful walks. We wandered around the lake until it got dark, and we managed to drag Dad away from bird watching!
Saturday, we headed for the train station and after I stumbled through some pretty poor Spanish, we collected out tickets and boarded a train to Ronda. The trains were awesome compared to the UK! We arrived into the mountain town in clear sunshine and soon had to strip off layers! We found a nice restaurant down a side street and sat in the sun with a beer. At this point I left my parents and sister in town and headed for the long steep path that lead under the Puente Nuevo, a spectacular bridge spanning the gorge that divides the town. I clambered around the meticulous footpath, chatting to other tourists along the way. Ronda was a beautiful place, but I was a little sad that we didn’t have the chance to travel a little further south to see the Ronda peridotites – a cool type of igneous rock with originates from the mantle. I guess I’ll have to save that for the next trip!
We headed into Malaga on Sunday to meet my sister’s friend, who’s family live in the city. Carlotta showed us around the city centre and took us for lunch at an awesome seaside restaurant. She did express her disappointment when she found my parents and I in a Costa coffee – apparently it wasn’t Spanish enough! We spent that evening, New Years Eve, in the bar of the park my Grandparents live on. It was very strange, celebrating new year twice, as the clocks chimed 12 in both Spain and the UK. I almost began 2018 by choking, as I attempted to eat a grape on each stroke of midnight, a Spanish tradition to bring luck in each month.
We spent Monday recovering from hangovers and spending some time together as a family. We wandered in the sun, chatting about everything we could possibly think of before it was time to say goodbye.
We left Tuesday morning, making a short stop in Antequera to visit the castle and buy some last-minute gifts. We drove the mountain pass back to Malaga, and after a little motorway confusion, managed to drop the car off and catch our flight back to the UK. We landed back in the UK in a storm – the scariest landing I’ve ever experienced! Safely on the ground, we headed home feeling refreshed and relaxed. Despite the drama to begin with, it was a great way to chill before starting my final semester at university!