Germany, Munich

Spent the first day here walking around the Altstadt and taking in the first of what will be many museum visits.

The buildings in the old town are pretty much as I remember them – 30 years since I last visited – although some are shrouded in scaffolding.However the crowds have grown considerably. Munich and Bavaria are having an economic boom. Unemployment is negligible at less than 2.5% and in fact it is much harder to find an apartment (major shortage) than a job – a bit of a change from the situation in Southern Spain where I just came from. Note the yellow chairs on the stairs for people to sit on – nice touch.

I bought the combined ticket for the Residenz – the old palatial home of the Bavarian leaders – just 150 rooms to see!! These include the old (including an original indoor grotto!) and the new(er) palace. I will revisit to see the Theatre and Treasury on another day as I got carried away listening to the excellent commentary on the free audio.

If bling and history is your thing this is the place for you. I liked it – and not many tourists either!

Spain, Gaucin – a spanish hillside Pueblo

We took off from Estepona up to Gaucin – a white hillside village about an hour up the mountain. Decided to stay overnight at a cute boutique hotel – La Fructuosa The views at this height are breathtaking and while nothing much happens in the town it is nice to wander around stopping for coffee and cold drinks as you go by white houses, beautifully kept cemeteries and decorations made of what looks like colored wool in a circle – all the while wondering how they build these villages that appear to hang off cliffs!

Spain, Malaga

We took a side trip to Malaga over the past few days. It actually had a nice feel to it and I think it is a town that is evolving into one with a personality and good vibe. We started to see the beginnings of a street art scene, ate at some good restaurants (including the famous El Pimpi where we indulged in the top of the range Iberian ham from chestnut eating pigs! ), we took a ride of the observation wheel, we walked the paseo along the oceanside, saw the impressive fruit and veg market and also visited the more traditional cathedral and the Alczabar. Great place for a short break.

Spain, The Sherry Triangle – Sanlúcar de Barremeda, Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria – plus art and flamenco!

Just enjoyed an interesting side trip from Estepona – visiting the three towns of the sherry triangle which is the only official part of the world where the wine made can be called sherry (or in the case of Sanlúcar de Barremeda Manzanilla which is a different version again).

I have learned that sherry is wine that is aged differently and for much longer. There are three main kinds (although actually about nine) all from a white grape – fino (dry and my favourite); amontillado (medium sweet) and ollorosso (sweet) – the darker colours of the latter two come from the aging process and oxidization (fino never sees the air as it is covered by a layer of yeast while it ferments) and most sherries age between 7 years minimum and up to 30 for some.

Anyway enough of the technical stuff – the towns we visited were all interesting to see and also include many bodegas where you can taste all kinds of sherries (plus a few brandies too)

Below is Sanlúcar de Barremeda – downtown and the seaside (a ten minute walk away). Very pretty.

This was our first bodegas visit. You can see the barrels are only partially filled to give room to the yeast to ferment on the top.

Then on to Jerez which is the largest of the three towns and has the most bodegas with names some of you will know – Croft, Timo Pepe and Gonzalez Byas. A visit to the local market was colourful.

The bodegas in Jerez is called Tradicion and that is because everything is done by hand – including the bottling. At this bodega there is an unexpected bonus of being able to see the (obviously wealthy) owner’s art collection. Yes that is a tile by Picasso and paintings by El Greco and Murillo.

In Jerez we also visited a traditional and very authentic flamenco show. Started at 10pm of course! We were just about the only non Spaniards there and it was amazing. Tiny bar, tiny stage and fantastic music and dancing. And as a contrast we visited the world famous Spanish Riding School and training centre – unfortunately no photos of the show allowed but suffice to say those riders and their horses are very well trained. And the last of the jacaranda trees too.

Of course Jerez has a cathedral which is as always in this part of the world impressive and very full of silver and gold!

And also a Small Alcázar in moorish style

We didn’t see much of interest in El Puerto de Santa Maria but we ate an amazing selection of tapas at Bespoke – worth it just for that!

Spain, San Sebastian and Loyola Sanctuary

Had to make sure to visit San Sebastián (foodie capital of the world?) while in Bilbao if only for the day – next time will spend more time there.

First stop was the Loyola Sanctuary and church – which is where the whole Jesuit thing started. Interesting historically if less so for me, religiously. The dome ceiling in the church and the spectacular chandelier beneath it were my faves.

Then on to San Sebastián via some gorgeous countryside even thought the weather was grim.

The town of San Sebastián has 3 3 Michelin star restaurants, one 2 start and about 12 more with one star. As a result it brings people from all over the world who love their food and they even give out awards for the best pinxtos. But I have decided to restrain myself with no more pinxtos pics:(

The sun came out finally at the end of the day which was perfectly timed as we headed up to the top of the local hill and got the best views of the wonderful city beach with some sun. For some reason they have a very tacky amusement park at the top of the same hill which I avoided photographing – luckily it doesn’t open until mid June. Why oh why???