General information about Andalusia
By travelling to Andalusia, many things will seem to be familiar to one but also many things will seem to be strange. Andalusia is a Spanish region member of the EU but still marked by its Moorish history.
Before our trip we informed ourselves previously in detail about the pecularities of the region Andalusia; We literally carry some owls to Athens by recommending this. But also those self-evident things are worthwhile to be repeatedely mentioned. Some tips are probably very useful, if for example one knows in advance what a traffic is to be expected, with which climatic conditions one has to count or how the population is compiled, this helps many times.
Geography and the population of Andalusia
Andalusia is a region in the southwest of Spain that is bordered by the Mediterranean sea in the southwest, the Atlantic sea in the southeast and Portugal at the west. With approximately 82.000 km², Andalusia is about as big as Portugal, but only has approximately 7 million inhabitants. The capital of the region is Sevilla, other big and famous cities are Granada, Córdoba, Cadiz and Málaga.
In this region, one is practically at only a few steps distance from Africa, whereby steps might not be the suitable word, as Spain and Africa are separated by only a narrow straits. At the narrowest point there are only a few kilometres sea between the two continents. There also is the splitting point between two oceans, the Mediterranean sea at the east and the Atlantic at the west. By the way, the famous rock of Gibraltar is in this area but is not, as many times thought, the narrowest spot.
Andalusia has a very varied landscape. The coasts, specially those of the Mediterranean sea, are famous for their climatic charactistics. This region is not called "Costa del Sol", sun coast, for nothing. In contrast to it there are the mountain chains of which the most famous is the Sierra Nevada. The view to this mountains is always impressive, as during the winter they are most of the times covered with snow and together with the Alhambra transmit a fantastic impression of Granada. In the Sierra Nevada there is also the highest peak of Spain, the Mulhacén heighted 3481 m. The other mountains are not as famous as the Sierra Nevada and surely do not offer these impressive data. But they are always attractive and worthwhile to visit.
The Sierra Morena for example that extends all over the north of the Guadalquivir plain, has numerous cork- and holm oak forests to offer. Between the Sierra de Morena in the North and the mountains in the south, the highlands of the Guadalquivir expands and the Vega, a fertile central landscape, is around Granada. By the way, Andalusia also has the only natural desert area of Europe to offer, the terrace landscape Alpujarras.
The region of Andalusia is a landscape where the water is not abundant. In many areas of Andalusia, heat and dryness are normal, despite of some bigger and small rivers, as the big rivers are low watered for months and some smaller ones even completely dry out. The reservoirs that are supposed to minimize the lack of water help at least a little out. The longest river of Andalusia is the Guadalquivir with a length of 650 km that also flows through the capital of the region, Sevilla.
95% of the population of Andalusia is catholic. Considering the Moorish dominance for centuries, this is actually amazing, but the Catholic Royals did a great job. The remaining 5 % are protestants, Jewish and Muslims, whereby specially in Granada the number of people converting to the Islam ia increasing.
As it is also the case of many other areas of Europe, the population is concentrated in the agglomeration areas of the bigger cities, and the small villages are over-ageing. With approximately 600.000 people, the group of the Gitanos, Roma who originally inmigrated from India, is relatively large. These people who are often denominated as gipsys are, contrary to the common opinion, are mainly settled and only the fewest move through the country.But their economic situation and their reputation in the rest of the population is everything but good.
By the way, Spain and specially Andalusia ows the Flamenco to the Roma, this actually so typically Spanish dance.
Arrival and traffic
Principally, the most different ways to get to Andalusia are possible, by train, bus, car or plane. But in practically the most cases this will result in a flight, as this is the fastest and surely the most comfortable way. Bus trips are offered by different travel agencies. This could be economically interesting, but as the way to Andalusia is quite far, most of the times, this requires a journey of two days with some over night stays. Both ways already result in several days that actually lack in the actual destination place.
A trip by train is also not the optimal solution, as also in this case, the trip takes long time. In addition, the railway net is not very well developed in Andalusia, so that it can be very complicated to pendle between each of the destinations. But a trip by train is of course more comfortable than with the own car and also relatively cheap in Spain. But one is clearly more independent with an own vehicle, also during the tour itself through Andalusia, so that this variant is more oftenly used.
But the absolutely most common means of traffic for a journey to Andalusia is, of course, the plane. Most of the offers of the travel agencies for tours through these Spanish tourist areas are based on flights to Málaga or Almeria. Sevilla and Jerez also do have some airports, but only play a small role for the german tourists. By organizing the tour on one's own, one can also try to get a cheap flight to Málaga or to Almeria.
If one only wants to enjoy bathing at the Costa del Sol, one can, as far as the travel agent does not provide a shuttle, take a taxi. But we find that only beach life would be a pitty, as then one abstains from many highlights and sightseeings offered by Andalusia. In order to explore it, a rented car is of course the best.
We already booked the car in advance from Germany and think this is the best variant. By this way, one can take the car immediately after landing and does not lose too much time as everything is already arranged and one already knows the type of car one will get. It surely depends on the personal wishes which category is chosen; According to our experience, the road conditions of Andalusia are good, there is no need of a 4-wheel drive and specially strong motors. Of course, this also depends on how many people are in the car. We had a Fiat Punto and were fully satisfied with it. This type of car was fully enough for us two, as the Andalusian city centres, specially the old towns, are extremely labirynthine and narrow and there is a chronical lack of parking possibilities. The big cars have here a disadvantage. But what is important, specially in the summer time, is an air conditioner. As Andalusia is one of the hottest regions of Europe, it can get really unpleasant without an air conditioner.
The previous booking from Germany also has the advantage that generally those car rentals are chosen that are serious and offer some safely mantained vehicles. Our Punto was almost new and in a very good condition. Also the other cars of the rental office in the airport of Málaga were, as far as we can judge about it, well maintained and relatively new.
Driving a car in Andalusia is almost like driving a car in Germany, at least concerning the drives outside the city. One does not to have to adapt much, as here is also prevails the right hand traffic and many traffic rules and traffic signs are the same as in Germany. But something is still different and this should be in any case considered, otherwise it can get very expensive.
Those who are used to pass through the accelerator in Germany will have to control themselves in Andalusia. The maximum velocity on the motorway is here 120 km/h, on main roads with two lanes per direction, a maximum of 100 km/h are allowed, on the other roads outside the localities 90 km/h. Within the localitites, 50 km/h is the maximum. The penalties for the limit violation are considerable, one should not take any risk. By the way, we found that the traffic on the motorways with the allowed maximum velocity of 120 km/h is much more fluent than without limitation. We also arrived in time.
The safety belts have to be applied, either in the front- as also in the back seats. As in Germany, the 0,5 promille limit applies, but of course, with 0% it is the most savely. It can get really expensive if one is caught on the phone in the car without any hands-free equipment. Then, up to 600 Euro have to be paid.
During the take over of the rented car, it should be also verified if all prescribed aids are on board, as in case of a failure or an accident, two warning triangles that are positioned each one before and another one behind the vehicle are obligatory. Moreover, a safety vest must be worn. Those who violate these regulations have to pay a penalty up to 90 euros. The streets of Andalusia are in a good general condition. Only in some narrow side streets, the condition can be worse.
But driving in the Andalusian localities and cities is a completely different matter. Honestly, once we were at the end of our nerves. Specially in the inner cities and the old towns, the ways lead through some narrow alleyways and labyrinthine and narrow streets through which many times a car passes through and where the pedestrians have to enter into the house entrances while the car is approaching. The resulting situation of this is that most of the streets in the city centres are one way streets. This is the reason why it is everything but easy to find the way here and another reason is that many times, the Andalusian streets are not signposted.
In the travel description the streets where we should drive through were certainly announced, but how is that possible if one does not know on which street one actually is? Neither it was possible to stop and ask somebody, as in these narrow alleys, one caused a traffic chaos any time. Fortunately, we had a navigator with which we could get to the destination after several detours. We would recomend anybody who does not "blindly find the way" to drive with a navigator.
Despite of these stressful experiences, a round trip in Andalusia is a wonderful thing we can only highly recommend everybody, as one one arrived at the destination, all difficulties are forgotten.
Eat and drink, Andalusian specialities
As a central European, one has to adjust one's eating and drinking customs by having a tour through Andalusia. This also mainly concerns the times that strongly differ from our usual times, specially for dinner. In Spain, thus also in Andalusia, dinner time is earliest at 09.00 p.m., thus at a time when we normally finished dinner long ago.
A real Spanish dinner takes a long time, is very rich and of three or four courses. The thesis not to eat anything after 08.00 p.m.should be forgotten completely in Spain. In the late afternoon or in the early evening, one neither gets anything to eat in a restaurant, one is friendly but firmly asked to come again later. It happened to us several times that our German stomach rebelled and demanded some food, but people only looked at us compassionately.
But in this concern, there are meanwhile also some "loopholes". In the hotels, many times these Spanish eating habits are not so strictly respected but the diner times are adjusted to the foreign guests. Also those restaurants that offer an international cuisine do have most of the times other times than the Spanish ones. In the bigger localities or cities, there are practically always some Chinese restaurants or the "Italian around the corner" and of course there is also Mc Donalds. This is surely not the home cuisine that should be actually enjoyed if being in the country, but sometimes, the inner weakness is even stronger!
To the contrary, the breakfast is usually very small. Coffee, toast or a churro, a Spanish pastry, is fully enough for a Spaniard. But the hotels preferrably opt for the abundant variant. Lunch time usually starts at 01.30 p.n., thus a little later than in Germany but not as extremely late as dinner.
The famous tapas, these small appetizers, where originated as a Spanish National dish in the twenties of the last century. It is a dish that is always served additionally to a drink and that is supposed to brige the time up to dinner in the late evening. If one is lucky or if one investigates, one can even find a restaurant where one gets the tapas, as it is the tradition, for free if ordered a drink.
Also many egg dishes are offered. Tortillas, the omelettes that are also very popular in our country; Revueltos, scrambled eggs with seafood or vegetables and Huevos a la flamenca are typical Spanish specialities. In Andalusia, a place with a long coast, fish and seafood dishes are very popular and are oftenly offered in the menue card of the restaurants. The air-dried ham is also very famous, that is eaten in very fine slices.
Those who like can also try some real Andalusian specialities. Gazpacho, a soup made of pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and oil or kidney in Jerez-wine are things that are somehow strange to our palate. Of course, in such a sun-spoiled area of Andalusia, it is usual that fruit plays a big role in the nutrition that are mainly tropical fruits. Lemons, tangerines, oranges and also dates, figs, almonds and pine nuts are offered practically everywhere.
Most of the desserts and sweet dishes are of Andalusian origin. The Arabians are famous for such sweets. Those who are underweighted should in any case try the churros con chocolate. It is a fried pastry that is dipped in hot chocolate. The calories are countless.
Andalusia is a country with a big coffee culture. Whereever we have been in this region, the coffee was always a pleasure. The café con leche, a white coffee, is mainly drank during breakfast. One gets an espresso, a café solo, always and everywhere. If in-between or after a meal, a café solo is always welcomed. Café cortado is a "real" coffee, but with only a few drops of milk.
In Spain, one should also try the wine, of course, as there are excellent ones. The sherry is also famous and only cultivated in the Andalusian province Cádiz, but curiously ows its international famousity to the Brits. Those who like can also have an anise schnapps after a meal. Otherwise, mineral water is widely spread and of course, there are a lot of recently made fruit juices. Thus, for us central Europeans, the Andalusian cuisine is very apt and there are one or two specialities that should not be missed to be tried.
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Author: Michael Nitzschke; Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz