We Have a New Guest Chef – Mel’s Leek & Greens Lasagne

Greetings All.  Even though I still have a few more posts to make to my series on Spain to make it complete, I thought it was time I got back to “Kitchen” business too.  A few of you have sent in some amazing dishes and recipes to be featured on my Guest Chef Series.  In due time, I will do my best to feature all of your delicious recipes.  I want everyone to see the fabulous dishes that have been coming from your kitchens too.

This month’s Guest Chef recipe is for Leek and Greens Lasagne, submitted by my friend Mel at crushedcaramel, courtesy of a recipe she discovered on the BBC website.  I am excited that so many people are interested in my Guest Chef Series.  I love to see what you all cook in your kitchens.  I learn so much and have been inspired by all the recipes and fun photos you send me.  Mel has balanced out the meal with a healthy, tasty looking salad as well as some garlic bread.  This is a vegetarian version of lasagne, so it is a little less fattening, and a bit healthier than the traditional meat and sausage lasagne.  Enjoy and mangia!

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Leeks & Greens Lasagne

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1 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
1 bay leaf
rosemary sprig, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 leeks, finely sliced
40g plain flour
500ml milk
fresh nutmeg, for grating
75g cheddar, grated
30g parmesan, grated

Heat 1 tbsp oil with the butter over a medium heat. Add the bay leaf, rosemary and finely sliced leek, season and cook for a few mins until the leek has softened.

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Tip the flour into the pan and cook for 1 min more until the roux smells nutty. Remove from the heat, slowly pour in the milk and whisking out any lumps. Return to the heat and whisk slowly until thick and smooth, about 5 mins. Season well with grated nutmeg, then add cheddar and Parmesan, cooking until they are melted. Set aside.
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Next, it is time to make the leek and greens mixture that will make up most of the filling in the lasagne. Here are the ingredients needed:
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2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or more as desired – Mel is definitely a “girl after my own heart” and she added more garlic, just like I would
½ green chili, sliced
400g mixed green leaves, such as kale, chard and spinach, roughly chopped
100ml dry white wine of your choice
Heat 2 tbsp oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic and chili for a couple of mins until aromatic.
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Add the rest of the leeks, season and fry until softened.
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Add the mixed greens and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Cook the vegetables, stirring, until the greens have wilted, (about 4 mins), then pour in the wine and cook until it evaporates.
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Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6 or 350* F.
Here are the rest of the ingredients that will be needed for the lasagne:
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Olive oil to grease the tin
100g walnuts
280g jar preserved artichoke hearts in oil, drained
100g ricotta
6 dried lasagne sheets

And these are the steps the recipe described for assembling the lasagne:

  • Oil a medium roasting tin (about 20cm square) and
  • Tip half the greens into the tin.
  • Dot half the walnuts over the top, and nestle in a third of the artichoke hearts. Dot over half the ricotta.
  • Remove the bay leaf from the leek bechamel and pour over a third of it.
  • Top with three lasagne sheets to cover everything in a layer.
  • Repeat the process
  • Cover the top layer of lasagne sheets with the remaining bechamel and artichokes and then scatter over the remaining cheese.

 

Then of course we need to slip the lasagne into the oven and bake! In the meantime, you have the rest of that bottle of wine to keep you busy.   Oh, I definitely like Mel’s way of thinking here.  She is absolutely a kindred spirit of mine.  Notice how I kept this part bold?  I think this is a very important part of the process.  🙂

After 30-40 minutes, it should be golden and bubbling and looking delicious.

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It will be scalding hot, so it needs to rest for a good ten minutes before you tuck into it.

For me a lasagne is not really complete without a salad and a hunk or garlic bread.  I could not agree more Mel.  Yummy!!!

You might remember Mel, Gary and I all worked together on the very fun, very successful 1st Annual Great Blogger Baker-Off that took place not so long ago.  I am hoping we can do that again this year as well. 

Many, many thanks to Mel for submitting this recipe and for all her hard work.  You definitely need to go to her website at crushedcaramel and see what’s going on in her world.  

My “Guest Chef Series” is an ongoing event, and I am always up to see what you are cooking.  There are no restrictions.  it’s up to you and your creativity.  So …. What’s cooking in your kitchen?

 

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The Pillars of Hercules – Part 2 – Ceuta

Ceuta, pronounced Theuta by the Spanish, is the southern Pillar of Hercules, located on the tip of Northern Africa.  The Pillars of Hercules – Part 1 – Gibraltar  It borders Morocco and is the only part of Europe or the EU that actually borders the African coast.  The total area is about 18.5 km or about 7 square miles and it is the gateway to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a very strategic outpost used by both the military and the commercial shipping industry.  Ceuta is 1 of 9 Spanish territories still held in Africa.  They are known as Spanish Autonomous cities.

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Ceuta has a very long and prolific history.  Because of its location and the fact that it is the control center for both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, it was a hub for trade.  It was first founded by the ancient Phoenicians, back in the 1st millennium BC.  It has been under the rule of many different countries throughout its long history.  Before becoming a part of Spain, it was under Portuguese rule until 1581, when King Phillip II of Spain united Spain and Portugal under the Iberian Union, and became King Phillip I of Portugal at the same time.  Both kingdoms were allowed to continue on their own without being merged.  Ceuta officially became part of Spain with the Treaty of Lisbon in 1661, under King Afonso VI of Portugal, and has been part of Spain ever since.  Currently, Morocco is fighting to gain control over the city, and has been trying to do so for quite some time, but for now, Ceuta remains a part of Spain.  Ceuta has slightly more than 85,000 people who call the city home.  In 2005, the population was almost 1/2 Spanish and Christian/Catholic and 1/2 Muslim.  Today, the demographics have changed and it is about 68% Catholic and 28% Muslim.  The official language is Spanish, although about 40-50% of the citizens speak Darija Arabic, which is Moroccan in origin.

There are many statues and tributes to Ceuta’s long history with the sea.  The Ceutatians are very proud of their seafaring history.

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As an avid scuba diver, this statue found a place in my heart.

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Going in to Ceuta, we took a helicopter.  It was only about a 10 minute helicopter ride from the port of Algeciras, and neither one of us had ever been on a helicopter before.  We had also never been to Africa before either, so this was two firsts for us at the same time.

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I think this picture captures the blending of the very old, ancient times with modern times perfectly.  My picture does not capture it, but the water was a beautiful emerald green.

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Ceuta, like the rest of Spain, was very hot, but the troopers and adventure seekers that we are, we endured the heat, and walked all over Ceuta.  And also like the rest of Spain, there are beautiful old churches, basilicas and mosques everywhere.

We covered and saw a lot of Spain.  In total we drove over 1600 miles or about 2600 km.  I fell in love with Spain, but I was really not that impressed with Ceuta, sad to say.  I was real excited about the helicopter trip going over, and the fact that we were able to touch ground in Africa, a new continent to both of us, but overall, I found Ceuta to be very dirty and not particularly friendly to tourists.  There was a lot to see, and definitely a lot of history, but the city is not really designed for tourism.  I’m glad I went, but once was more than enough for me.

We went back to Algeciras by the ferry.  That crossing was pleasant on the smooth sea, and took about an hour.  This ferry is not the one we took, but you get the idea.  This one was the ferry that took people on the longer cruise to Tangier.

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On our drive back to Costa del Sol, we stopped at a delicious Indian restaurant, called Mini India, for a fantastic Indian dinner.  The owner Parvis, was a delight.

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Parvis is the tall, elegant gentleman in the center.

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Dinner started with an Indian flatbread and three different sauces.

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The main entrees were spinach rice, garlic naan bread and chicken and mango curry for me and lamb vindaloo for Larry.  Everything was fantastic and the service was impeccable.

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We always like to order something different so we can share and get a better variety and sampling of the foods.

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Ciao for now.  Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pillars of Hercules – Part 1 – Gibraltar

Who hasn’t heard of the Rock of Gibraltar?  It is a long-standing symbol of impenetrable strength and security.  The rock is a sold piece of limestone rock that rises 426 meters above the sea.  Gibraltar is a British overseas territory that is on the southern most tip of the Iberian Peninsula.  It has been a British territory since 1713.  The residents were given an option of either returning to Spain or being co-governed by both Spain and Britain, but the residents overwhelming voted to remain completely under British rule.  You need to bring your passport to enter and leave “The Rock” and it is border controlled.

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Gibraltar, as well as its neighbor across the sea Ceuta, are known as the Pillars of Hercules.  Both are the gates to the Mediterranean, separating Europe and Africa.  They became known as the Pillars of Hercules back in the days of the ancient Mediterranean.  Legend has it Hercules broke the mountain that connected Africa and Europe, and the mountain is now on both sides of the sea.  This was also thought to be the western limits of navigation for the ancient Mediterranean world.  The narrow passage way between the two continents is known to sailors around the world as the Straits of Gibraltar.

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Looking out to Africa.

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Today, there are about 27,000 residents who call Gibraltar home.  The main industries there are shipping and trade, housing the military and tourism.  Everything is imported in since there is no land for agriculture.  The native people who live in Gibraltar are a mixture of British, Genoese, Spanish, Maltese and Portuguese.  The official language is English, though it is often spoken in a dialect known as Yanito, which has influences from Spanish, Genoese and Hebrew mixed in with the English.  Most people are bilingual though, and speak both English and Spanish.

The other residents of “The Rock” are the Barbary Apes, which are the only wild monkeys in all of Europe.  They are free to roam anywhere they want, though they tend to stay on the upper portion of the rock.  They are protected and anyone who harms them will be severely punished.

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There is a cable car that takes people up the mountain, and that is a very popular tourist attraction.

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We were going to take it up, and were standing in line to do so, but then a better offer came our way.  We would have had to wait in line for about 1 1/2 hours for a six minute ride that only would have only taken us up the mountain partially.  As we were standing in line, we were approached by a couple who offered tours that gave the history of Gibraltar, stopped at the caves and stopped at the very top of the mountain instead.  We jumped at it, and I am so glad we did.  We had a much better experience than those who took the cable car.  They all had to walk UP that very steep hill in the blistering heat while we were driven up in air conditioned comfort and got a history lesson of the rock.

The caves were very impressive with a beautiful light show.  They actually hold concerts and a wide variety of events in the caves.  I would love to see a concert in these caves.  The acoustics would be phenomenal.

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There is also a series of tunnels that were used in WWII.  We would have loved to see those, but time was limited and that would have been another tour.  Next time.  I think that would be fascinating as well.  I was raised as a WWII buff.  I love learning about everything that happened and took place during those times, and how through sheer strength and determination, people pulled through some of the darkest days the world has ever seen.

Because Gibraltar is British, we had to take in some of the local British customs and sites as well.

Yes, the phone in this old relic still actually works too.

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We even dined on fish & chips.  I guess it’s the Aussie in me, but I love good fish & chips.  Larry had a beef and ale pie.  Both were very typical British fare.  Both were delicious.

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Gibraltar, just like all the rest of Spain, has very narrow roads, with very narrow houses on the streets.  Again, everyone finds a parking spot and takes it, no matter where it is, and walks the rest of the way.  Parking spots are like gold.  Once again, yet another very informative, fun and interesting day.  We loved our day in Gibraltar.

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Ciao for now.  Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spanish Night

!!!!Passion!!!!  This is the one word that best describes the Spanish culture.  It is filled with passion.  Everything they do, they put their heart and soul into, and they fill it with passion.  One of the many passions enjoyed by the Spanish is their love of horses, and the Andalusians in particular.

Andalusian horses are also called Priza Espanola, or of “pure Spanish race”.  They originated in the Andalusia region of Spain.  It is estimated that the first horses came to Spain about 30,000 years ago, and were domesticated and first ridden by the Spanish about 6000 years ago.  It is a love affair that continues and flourishes stronger than ever still today.  This love affair with Andalusian horses started with King Phillip II, back in the late 16th century.  They then became the emblem of the Spanish Empire.  By 1567, they were owned and ridden by at least 1/3 of Europe’s royalty.  The creation of the National Association of Spanish Horse Breeders was also created in 1567.   Andalusians quickly became the status symbol of honor and wealth.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, they were even used as a form or currency and gifts between royalty and noblemen.  Andalusians are known throughout the equestrian world for their athleticism and endurance.  Descendants of the Andalusian are the Arabian and Lustiano breeds.  Andalusians are very smart and like the Spanish, they too love their music and love to dance and perform to music.

One of our Spanish adventures was to attend a show that showcased many of these Spanish passions.  It started with the performance of the Andalusians, followed by a Spanish grilled dinner, or comida a la plancha, and ended with Flameco music and dancing.  I absolutely loved it.  Larry enjoyed it, but was not into nearly as much as I was.  He is not as empassioned with the arts like I am.

These horses were spectacular and were so well trained.  They were most definitely well trained athletes and dancers and they were out to perform.

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This jump is one of the most difficult jumps a horse can do because they are jumping up and kicking out at the same time.  This shot was just pure luck.

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These horses were all in perfect unison the whole time.  Each one of the horse in the back was wearing a bell, so they made music of their own as they performed.

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Coming out to dance.  The horse was dancing flamenco just like the Senora was.

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After the equestrian performances, we got to go back to the stables and meet “the stars”.  They are so beautiful.

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They are also very feisty too.  I was petting one horse and another one, a couple of stalls down, threw a bit of temper tantrum because I was not giving him love too.  So I went over to him and started giving him some love ( I know, I was rewarding bad behavior, a big no-no, but ….).  He was good for a bit, then he started acting up again.  I told him no more love if he continued.  He stopped for a bit, as if he was listening to me, then started acting up again, just like a child that acts up when it doesn’t get its way.  That was it.  He blew it.  By then, we were off to the dinner portion, so off we went from the stables to the dinner table.

The walls of the dining hall were lined with equestrian and bull fighting trophies.  I know bull fighting is very much a part of the Spanish culture as well as the horses are, but I WILL NEVER EVER attend a bull fight.  I am always rooting for the bull.

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The food was all served family style.  It was good, simple, hearty food.  We all started off with an asparagus and cheese soup.  Then the main meal came.  It was a mixed grill of a chicken kebab and grilled pork chop with vegetables.  The pork was delicious.  There was also a vegetarian option available, but one of the ladies at our table was a vegetarian, and she was very disappointed with it.  For dessert, it was some kind of a gelato/ice cream treat.

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After dinner …. Let the dancing begin.

Flamenco music is a traditional form of music that is usually comprised of a guitar, a singer and dancers.  It has a very rich and diverse history, and no one knows for sure when it was first introduced to Spain.  It has influences mostly from the Andalusian Roma gypsies, known as Gitanos.  It also has influences from the Rajasthan people from Northwest India, as well as from the Sephardic Jews and the Moors.  It is believed to have its roots in Spain for as far back as anywhere between the 9th and the 14th centuries.  It  morphed and grew into its own form of music and dance, that has been a tradition in Spain and the Latin world ever since.  The music is centered around a complex 12-beat rhythm that is an expression of extreme emotions and passions.  Both men and women dance flamenco.  The men are known for their elaborate foot work, whereas the women are more known for their beautiful ruffled dresses and more upper body and hand work than what is seen with the male dances.  But the women dancers have some pretty elaborate footwork as well.

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I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE flamenco music.  I was studying flamenco and Spanish classical guitar for awhile.  I most definitely need to get back into it.

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I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did.  Next stop …. Two countries, two continents.  Ciao for now.

Costa del Sol- Part 2

Most of our time spent in Costa del Sol was eating or driving around.  It was our starting point to other places and destinations.  As I mentioned in my post Costa del Sol this was home base for the next week.  It was called Forrest Hills.  Though we did not stay around town to much, we really enjoyed it.  Our place was comfortable and cozy, but we did not get to fully appreciate it the way it was designed.  We were to busy, and always on the go, which is a typical vacation for us.

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This is more like a kitchenette than a kitchen.  The only “cooking” I did here was to prepare sandwiches to take on the go with us.

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Obviously, the only rooms we got to really see and use the most during our stay.

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This is an early morning view from our place.

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The drive up to our place.

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Just some random shots while touring around. I love old buildings.  Their attention to detail and the architecture are just amazing and very fascinating to me.  This is some old  Muslim/Moorish building.  I have no idea what it is, but I thought it was gorgeous.  I think it was some kind of a market place.

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There are castillos and very old structures everywhere you go.  On every corner, there is some beautiful, old historical site.  Churches, Basilicas, Cathedrals and Mosques are also everywhere you go.  There is also a very good blending of the very old and historic mixed with the very new and modern everywhere you go, all throughout Spain, not just the Costa del Sol area.  Water fountains and gorgeous city center displays were abundant around all the roundabouts, which are all over Spain.

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And of course, there was delicious food everywhere we went.  I don’t think we had a bad meal at all anywhere in Spain.  This was another delicious post-diving early meal with Nicole.

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I hope you enjoy these pictures of the Sunshine Coast, known around the world as Costa del Sol.  There is still so much more of our trip to come.  Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Diving the Med

I am always up for an adventure, especially if it includes scuba diving.  When I told everyone we were going to Spain, I was constantly asked if this was a dive trip.  My answer was yes, and no.  To me, a “dive trip” is when I am diving exclusively, or at least for the majority of the time during our vacation.  For this trip, we were only diving for 3 days with 2 tank dives each day out of the total 2 weeks we were in Spain, so only 6 dives.  For me, it was NOT a dive trip, but rather a trip that includes diving.  All my fellow dive-aholics will completely understand the difference.

I was really looking forward to trying out a new dive destination and to be diving the Med.  It was quite a shock to the system though, and was VERY different from diving in our beloved Caribbean.  We are very spoiled and dive primarily in the WARM, clear waters of the Caribbean, or Hawai’i or Fiji or Australia, where there is an abundance of marine life and vegetation.  Diving in Malaga was a completely different experience.  The water was freezing cold.  It was between 60-65* F or about 16-18* C.  That is a big shock when you are used to waters that are about 80-85* F.  We wore a full wet 5mm wetsuit, and I had my 1mm underneath, and I NEVER wear wetsuits.  Whereas Larry actually had a shortie wetsuit over his full wetsuit. He never got used to the conditions and was cold for most of the time.  I was in a little shock when I first got in for my first dive, but then quickly acclimated to the temperature.  We are also used to great visibility that allows us to see for about 100-150 feet.  We were lucky if the viz here allowed us to see 50 feet, and for the most part, we could only see about 10-20 feet, if even.  And there wasn’t much to see even when we could see.  There is not the abundance of fish or corals in the Mediterranean, or at least not where we dived, like there are in other parts of the world.  On our last day of diving, the conditions were so bad that the divemasters actually called the dive shortly after we got down to the bottom.  The current was super strong and the visibility was horrible, plus everyone was really cold.  We did a deep dive, down to about 87-90 feet or 26-27 meters, and all of us chewed through our air very quickly while doing a whole lot of nothing in the process.  Usually Larry and I are very good with our air consumption and can stay down for a long, long time and still come up with about 1000 lbs remaining.  You will get different answers on how to rate the diving here in Spain depending on if you ask me or if you ask Larry.  Larry says “he will never dive in the Med again”.  I now know what to expect, and I would have no problem diving in the Med again, but then I will dive anywhere, anytime.  I am a certified, dive-aholic.

Despite all the surprises and shocks, there were still some good things too.  We did see some new fish, and we got to dive some place new, and we met a new dive buddy and friend, Nicole.  Larry says I am a frustrated marine biologist wanna-be because I get so excited about seeing new fish.  I know most of the names of the fish (at least in the Caribbean waters), so seeing new types of fish was a perk for me.

The familiar “faces” I saw were a bunch of sea stars and scorpion fish, a few mollusks, quite a few octopi or octopusses (both are correct) and some beautiful soft corals. (Don’t pay attention to the date in the corner)

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We even saw a few wrecks, one of which was the remnants of an old French galleon that was over 300 years old (not pictured).

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This beautiful peacock wrasse was a new friend, but is a cousin to the Creole wrasse we see all the time down in the warmer Caribbean waters.

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And then we saw some things we don’t encounter all that often too.  These were both a first.  Potty break anyone?

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St. Carmen, the patron Saint of Fishermen.

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Diving with our new dive buddy, Nicole.

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After we dried off and thawed a bit in the sun, the three of us went out for yet another delicious lunch in Marbella.  The sangria was delicious, as was the food, but we only had burgers and sandwiches.

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Costa del Sol

Costa del Sol, or the Sun Coast, is the coastline and beach areas all along The Andulucia region of Southern Spain, in the Provincia de Malaga.  It is nestled between two other lesser know coastal regions, the Costa del Luz or the Coast of Light  and the Costa Tropical or the tropical coast.  Like with many other beach towns and communities, the region started off as a local fishing and farming community, and was known for its raisins back when Malaga was a major trade destination.  In the late 19th century Malaga suffered a severe economic downturn that affected all the trade in the area.  But the idea of turning this area in to tourist destination was born even in these tough economic times, and thus the Costa del Sol region as we know it today, was born. Costa del Sol is very reminiscent of California in looks, and temperature.  On average, the Costa del Sol region gets about 3000 hours of sunshine per year.  The warm sunshine and the beautiful coastal areas had all the necessary ingredients to make the region the major tourist destination that it has become today.  People from all over the world flock to the Costa del Sol to bask in the sunshine of Spain.   It is lined with beautiful homes, trendy shops and restaurants galore.

After leaving Almeria, we headed straight for Costa del Sol, which was about another 350-400 K or 300 mile drive. We stayed in Estepona, we dived out of Marbella and went in all different directions for the various activities we did for the week.

Our first stop on the coast was Puerto Banus. We were looking for our dive operator, took in the sights and dined in front of the marina. It was most definitely a place to see and be seen. The whole region, but particularly Puerto Banus, is most definitely the playground for the rich and famous, as well as those who want to be rich and famous. We saw so many beautiful and expensive luxury cars and yachts, as well as plenty of people who thought they were all that. We learned later that a lot of people rent out those specialty cars for the day or for the week.  We were definitely in the observer roles.  This is so NOT us at all, but every now and then it is fun to see how the other half lives.

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The most unusual and impressive thing we saw was the Rolls Royce SUV or sport utility vehicle.  Yes, you read that right, a Rolls Royce SUV.  It got a ton of attention and was very popular indeed.  We were eating dinner right across from where the driver parked his car and saw everything.  The funniest thing though was when someone was taking a picture of the car and the owner snuck up on him and asked if he would like a picture with him as well.  We googled it and the starting price for the bare-bone basic model STARTS at $250 K, and goes up to about $400 K.  I think I’ll just run right out and order us a couple so we can drive around in style. NOT!

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The people watching proved great entertainment.  It was fun to watch everyone ogle over this new, expensive, exotic toy while we were enjoying dinner.  We ate quite a few very good, very tasty meals in Costa del Sol.  Other times we just made sandwiches and took the on the run with us for a picnic lunch.

This is our first meal, at the Azul Mar.  There was a great meal deal that included one first, one entrée, and one dessert for about 16 E each.  How could we pass that up?!

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As soon as we sat down, they brought a loaf of bread with some olives and sauces.

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Our “firsts” as they are called, were garlic shrimp and a shrimp and avocado salad.

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Then came the mains.  Larry ordered the fried fish platter and I had seafood marinara.

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And for dessert, I had a pear poached in a red wine sauce and Larry had the flan.  Everything was fabulous!

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By the time we finished dinner, it was already about 9:30 PM and we had had a long day of driving and sightseeing.  All we could think of us was getting checked into our timeshare and calling it a night.  Things did NOT work out as planned though.  We got so lost looking for our timeshare.  We drove around through the hills of Estepona for about 2 hours, in the dark since there were no street lights, on very narrow, winding roads, before we finally found our place.  Needless to say, we had more than reach our limits, at this point.  When we finally got checked it, we were told there was no air conditioning.  ARRRGGHHH!!!!  It was an adorable little apartment, but it was very hot with no air conditioning.  We weren’t there to much though, but when we were there, it made it very difficult to sleep.

This is where we called home for the next week.  Our unit was the bottom unot on the left, at the end.  My next few posts will be about our adventures in Costa del Sol.  Ciao for now.

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