This is a big call, as until now, Picasso's work really hasn't floated my boat. Dali yes, Goya, oh, hell yeah, Pollock, for sure - but I never really saw the point of Picasso's work.
Maybe it's the full immersion in Spanish Culture that's opened my eyes. With a bit of time to kill in Malaga as I overnighted there, waiting for the my plane to England the following morning, I took myself out into the streets to look around this town I really had no desire to go to. Like Malaga is a European Holiday resort on the Mediterranean, filled with chip eating Eurotrash who want to sit on a sun lounger - why would I want to come here?
Also, after the glories of Seville, the Alcazar with it's amazing internals and fabulous gardens, Malaga was always going to be a let down. Well it wasn't, as it happens.
After lots of flicking through airline timetables, Malaga was the best choice to get back to London - flights that didn't get in at midnight and getting me to Luton - not Birmingham, Edinburgh or Manchester. It was a sane option.
So, after leaving Seville at lunch time for the two and a half hour train ride, (through some pretty impressive countryside) I found myself with an afternoon to spend doing not much. The only options for me were wander the cobbled streets, or take in the Picasso Museum. I also had to try and find a new bag to take on the plane (to avoid paying exhorbidant excess baggage fees). I found a lovely zebra print bag - well, nobody's going to knick it. Right size, right price and I should get away with in in hand luggage - not that I've bought that much - but my guide books and souvenirs are heavy - and last time I was lumped with 40 euros excess baggage (for three kgs...). Joy.
Being a Sunday in November, Malaga is closed - or nearly closed. After the buzz of Seville, the joy of the gorgeous streets that are very much alive at all sorts of the day and night.
First up, more on Seville - again, some of the best days of the holiday. Having people to have dinner with really helps single travel along and Georgy and Thom and I crossed paths yet again, so we decided to meet for dinner each night - a good call - you don't get in eachother's pockets, but you get a bit of variety. The Saturday night saw us have a delightful meal of garlic prawns, spiced spinach and chickpeas and chorizo at this little place in the Jewish quarter - marvellous food. This was followed up up by this rather lethal stuff called Aqua de Seville - a fiery mix of cream, pineapple juice, rum and something sparkling and alcoholic. Ashamed to say my funny, drinking mouth came out and I trundle back to Pablo Neruda street in a merry state. (It was actually Lope de Rueda Street, but as with everywhere else I've stayed, I'm managed to find a familar equivalent - Placido Domingo Station, Julio Eglasias Road...)
The cathedral got a good going over - not quite as impressive as the one in Toledo, but still good for a few hours of poking about. It seems it's not a cathedral here unless you have an anatomically correct rendering of John the Baptist's head. Climbing the Giralda, the large bell tower was also cool, even if it did test my fear of heights. Rather than a narrow winding stair case, this bell tower has long, wide ramps, built to allow horses to the top. For once I climbed to the top of the church and not fear about getting down again.
Also spent a good few hours looking around the Alcazar, Seville's equivalent of the Alhambra. They're very different spaces, but still wonderful to while away a few hours, just drinking in the Moorish splendours. It was again a case of mouth open, drink in the glory. It's a stunning complex, the likes we do not see at home.
It was also good having Georgy and Thom around - they headed for Morocco just as I took off for Malaga. On our last night in each otgher's company and yet another great meal - partridge lollypops (did you know that chupa chups in Spanish actually means "Sucky suck"?), eye fillet and a mixed seafood platter. Postres, or dessert as it known, was not shared - though Thom and I swapped puddings - he took my chocolate walnut brownie and icecream and It took on his goats milk yoghurt with beetroot ice cream - which was really interesting,but not very sweet.
Then it was off for some flamenco. In every city the hotels were peddalling flamenco. We turned to our trust Lonely Planet and took the free option, down a few back streets in the Santa Cruz barrio. Thing about flamenco - you don't if it's good or not. We fronted up to this tin shed arrangement with what seemed to be every other nationality under the sun. There was little room. It was really smoky. We got some drinks and stood in the cooler, uncrowded spot near the loos. A trio came on stage. A bloke with a guitar, a chubby fellow with hair longer than the woman who came on with them who in this fetching pink get up. The guy on the guitar started up. The other two clap along for a bit. Then the long haired bloke started to yowl, opps, sing. Then the lady started to tap away to the bloke's constipated crooning. It was interesting, but after twenty minutes, Georgy started to feel faint from the cigarette smoke and we had to make a hasty departure.
We weren't sure if it was good flamenco or not, but they all seemed in the moment - what more can you ask for?
Something I haven't mentioned. In Spain everybody smokes, everywhere, all the time. Ciggies are around four euro a packet. Somehow the EU laws of not smoking in restaurants and bars have been resisted. And for non-smokers, this is crap. For reformed smokers, like me, I just have to sit down and shut up and not give into the desire to have one. Thankfully, I resisted. Filthy habit.
Georgy, Thom and I parted company after a final sangria on Pablo Neruda Street. It was an absolute pleasure having them a part of my holiday. Just having somebody to eat dinner with and swap notes with made Spain all the more enjoyable.
And now I'm back in England. Other than a sixteen degree temperature difference and the fact that it hasn't stopped pissing down, I'm settling in well. Here at Gareth and Georgina's place in Hertfordshire, all feels as it should be. It's strange to watch television and not have it dubbed (or have tarot readers on telly late at night). There is real milk to put in your tea, not the reconsituted UHT stuff. When Georgina picked me up at Luton, I immediately went to the driver's side - so used to getting in that side as a passenger. They drive on the correct side of the road again - for the first time in a month.
I lived here for eight years in the nineties. All is pretty much where I left it.
One bonus - we picked up Xanthe and Toby, Gareth and Georgina's kids, from school. Xanthe had a swimming lesson, and I was given the option to go swimming. In England. In November. The best thing about this is that my pasty, flabby body fits right in here at the Hertfordshire University pool. It also woke me up to the fact that I really, really do miss the gym. I can't wait to get back for that.
Hanging out with Georgina and Gareth is the perfect way to reacquaint myself with reality. It's a soft landing. Wednesday I'm in Bath, Thursday back in London and Friday on my way back to Australia.
But a last word on Picasso. I think it's a matter of my perspective that has made me appreciate it more. Getting Picasso is about seeing the parts, and then seeing the sum of parts. Then looking at the parts again. He's absolutely incredible.
It's a bit like me and this holiday. It's been a matter of fun and spectacular occurences. You then look over the time off as a whole. Then consider the holiday in parts again.
And it is only then that I really come to realise just how truly blessed I really am.