I had begun planning a trip to Spain for us early in the year. We had never been there, so I was doing a lot of research on where to visit, how to get around, and what to see. I decided on the southern coast of Spain, called the Costa del Sol (the Coast of the Sun) as our destination. We decided if we were going to make it worthwhile, we needed to stay a few weeks, so I worked out an itinerary for 3 weeks. I planned as many things as I could in advance - the rest we would figure out when we got there. After all, that's part of the adventure. I picked June for our trip, since that's the very beginning of the high season and the weather is typically warm, but not the really hot weather experienced in July and August. It turned out to be perfect.
On June 3rd, we flew from Panama City to Madrid, Spain, on an overnight flight. Our round trip was to Málaga, Spain, about an hour flight from Madrid. However, we opted to skip that flight and take the high-speed train. We wanted to experience the train and see more of the countryside. In Madrid, we figured out how get a shuttle train that connected the airport to the railway terminal and connected with our train. It was a comfortable, smooth ride, even at 300 km/hr (about 186 mph).
Arriving in Málaga, we took a bus from the train station to our resort, in an area called Calahonda - took about an hour. Calahonda is on the Mediterranean and we were fortunate to have a condo that was on an upper floor, so it had a nice view.
The weather was sunny and quite warm (80s) but the beach was a little disappointing. The Mediterranean was lovely to look at but way too cold to go swimming (for me and most of the beachgoers). We didn't spend much time at the beach. The resort had 2 nice pools and we spent a lot of time just relaxing and swimming. It seemed almost all of the residents at the resort were British. We heard much more English (with a British accent) than Spanish being spoken.
The highlight of our stay in Calahonda was a day trip we took to Gibraltar. It is located at the Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean Sea and home of the famous Rock of Gibraltar. We discovered that Gibraltar is not part of Spain; it is a sovereign country that is part of Great Britain (similar to Ireland or Scotland) - and quite tiny. We rented a car for the day, rather than taking a package tour. We got a Fiat coupe with manual transmission - a fun, zippy little car to drive. The drive to Gibraltar took a little over an hour. We parked the car on the Spain side and walked in through the border checkpoint. It was pretty informal. We just showed our passports and walked through. We had hoped to get Gibraltar stamps in our passports - no such luck. We took a bus across the country (which means, basically, across the city) to the mountain that is the Rock of Gibraltar. From the city level, you take an aerial tram to the top of the mountain (views from the tram shown above).
The views at the top are spectacular. Gibraltar is so small that you can see the runway for the Gibraltar International Airport stretches from one side of the country to the other. Spain is just a little ways past the airport runway (see pictures). On the mountain, you have to be very mindful of the Barbary macaques (also called Barbary apes). These are large, wild monkeys that live on the mountain. They have free run of the place and they are everywhere. The macaques can be pretty big and they are strong and fast. Trivia: they are the only wild monkey population in Europe. Unafraid of humans, they can be quite aggressive, especially if you have any kind of food on you or with you. There are many warning signs about this. The monkeys are especially keen on backpacks, which they know often contain food.
Shortly after we arrived at the top of the mountain, I was taking a picture of a monkey and handed the backpack to Tina. She put it on her back. While I was taking the picture, an "accomplice monkey" snuck around behind Tina and suddenly jumped onto the backpack on her back. Tina screamed (understandably) and scared the monkey, who jumped off and ran. Mind you, our backpack had no food in it. Later, we saw a large monkey snatch a backpack off the shoulder of a tourist, zip it open, and pull out a bag with a sandwich (see picture above), almost before the German man had time to yell at it. Guess who got in trouble from the staff? [It wasn't the monkey.]
After you've explored the top of the mountain, you have to head down. You can take the aerial tram or take a road which crisscrosses the mountain and takes you to a number of different attractions. There are shuttle buses to take you down the road but Tina and I decided to hoof it. It was quite a workout, since getting to the bottom requires walking several miles (and it was very warm). However, there's a lot of cool stuff to see on the way. One attraction is St. Michael's Cave: a large cavern that has now been turned into a unique theater/concert venue. Because of its strategic location, the Rock has been the site of quite a few military battles in the past. There are tunnels and gun emplacements from WW2 which are impressive and extensive. We spent most of the day exploring all the sites on the way down the mountain.
Once we got back down to the bottom of the mountain, we walked through the city for a while, then caught a bus back to the border. Back in Spain, we fired up our little Fiat and headed back to the resort after a long, tiring, fun and adventurous day.