On getting lost, Mediterranean beaches and the Prado

A view of the Mediterranean from a restaurant in Marbella.

Marbella is an aptly-named town that hugs a pristine ocean, stopped in a time straight out of a nostalgic Il Postino-like movie.

It’s an interesting exercise to recall a vacation that happened more than six years ago. Who’s to say I’m remembering it accurately? They say memory can be incredibly unreliable — the truth somewhat elusive. And yet, I think time softens edges and leaves you with impressions, made more precious, or at least colored by the moment you’re experiencing.

What do I remember? Renting a car from Granada (being thankful that Rafi knew how to drive a manual), and having a bit of a hard time navigating Marbella’s Old Town, where our hotel was located.

Once we were settled though, we had fun wandering the cobblestoned cute Old Town and taking a stroll on the wide beach boardwalk.

We strategically planned to have a relaxing “beach break” in the middle of our trip, anticipating that we’d need some R+R. It was a good call. We splurged and booked a couples’ massage at the luxurious Marbella Club’s Spa, where we luxuriated in their amazing indoor pool, relaxed on lawn chairs and had a delicious (if overpriced) buffet lunch.

The start of a spa day at the Marbella Club.

We spent another day at a nearby beach, rumored to be (at least at the time) close to where Antonio Banderas lives. (Sadly, there was no celebrity spotting when we were there).

We dipped into the cool Mediterranean water with its soft waves and walked its pebbled beaches. The paella we enjoyed at a beach-side restaurant was so delicious, made even more special by the gorgeous view.

Beach-side paella for two in Marbella.

We stayed at La Villa Marbella and would stay there again in a heartbeat. It was charming and right in the middle of the very walkable Old Town. They also offered a rooftop breakfast, which was lovely.

While in Marbella, we took a day trip to Ronda, a mountaintop city set above a deep gorge, spanned by Puente Nuevo, a stone bridge featuring a lookout with awesome views.

Breakfast on the rooftop terrace at Villa Marbella.

Ronda is somewhere round and round and up and up along a precarious mountain road leading to a a town that’s poised on an edge of a precipice bridged by old, old stone.

Ronda’s sturdy, stone bridge.

The bridge separates the “New Town” (“new” referring to the 15th century) from the “Old Town,” which dates back to Moorish rule.

Ronda is also known for its Plaza de Toros, an 18th century bullring, which also houses a museum all about the art of the bullfight.

Bullfighting ring in Ronda.

Ronda is definitely worth a visit, but the drive up the mountain can be a bit frightening. When we drove there, there was no cliff-side rail (or lane separators for that matter) and drivers were cavalier about aggressively passing each other around the steep and winding mountain road.

On the way down the mountain, on the recommendation of a local, we opted to take an alternate road to avoid being on the rail-less cliff side mountain road. This alternate route ended up being very much off the beaten path, and we ended up quite turned around. The desolate road took us straight through ancient, abandoned-looking “Pueblos Blancos” (white villages), where the roads would suddenly narrow down to one rickety lane flanked on either side by white walls — and not a soul in site.

It would have been very interesting if not for the fact that we were lost and our GPS (which was a portable TomTom preloaded with Spain’s maps) had run out of batteries. Thankfully, we were able to hook it up to a laptop and troubleshoot from there, but there were some panicky moments throughout it all!

As I reflect back, I remember it being one of those moments early on in our marriage when we were still discovering how we each responded to stress and how we worked through it together. We were still figuring out the dance, waiting for cues from the other person. In this case, I think we were both trying to hide how terrified we were from the other person and, when we were out of the situation, we both breathed a sigh of relief, admitting that we’d both been worried and then laughing that we hadn’t wanted to let it show.

After our little adventure in Ronda, we were ready to return our rental car in Málaga and take a train to Madrid, our last stop.

Madrid is boisterous bustle, wide streets and narrow streets, small boutiques around cramped corners that lead to expansive courtyards, and, of course, the Prado.

What I mostly remember from Madrid was spending an entire day at the Prado and still feeling like I could’ve lingered longer. It remains one of my favorite art museums, and I really want to revisit it someday. I’m sure to really appreciate it, you’d need to devote at least a couple of full days.

Outside of the Prado in Madrid.

One of the best decisions I made in college was to take an art history class. It was just one class, and it wasn’t for my majors, but I’m so glad I took it because it’s truly enriched my appreciation for art and art museums. I think I enjoyed this museum so much because I had just taken the class a year before, and I saw many of the paintings I had studied in the class.

I’m more of the art nerd when it comes to museums, but Rafi will get into it right alongside me, which I appreciate. We discovered on this trip that he likes to read all of the information in all of the rooms for all of the paintings. I, on the other hand, like to enter a room, scan it and then let the art pull my attention and wander as I will. All in all two very different styles of experiencing art. Again, we were still figuring out our dance.

Appreciating some fine Degas in the Prado.

It’s safe to say that, as our last stop in Spain, we were running out of steam by the time we reached Madrid. The last couple of days we opted to leave unstructured and walked as much of the city as we could muster, trying to take it all in. It’s definitely a place I’d like to revisit at the beginning of a trip, and with more time.

Puerta del Sol, Madrid.

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