Here’s my first bit of advice to anyone visiting Almería: if you want a quiet day and not be noticed, do not wear a Feyenoord Rotterdam shirt out in the street. As I learned very quickly, you’ll get approached repeatedly by middle-aged, Dutch women holidaying in the city and they will hassle you and on occasions literally grab you to kiss the badge on the shirt (yes this did actually happen to me). Saying that, I’m sure some of you would probably enjoy this, so you now know what to do if Feyenoord-loving, middle-aged Dutch women are your thing. Nonetheless, I like the Dutch, so if Almería was good enough for all these Dutch folk, then I was hoping it would be good enough for me too.
Although its popularity is beginning to rise, thanks largely to its beaches, Almería is still a city relatively untouched by tourism, giving the place a very authentic feel. The city and its surrounding area is also considered to have one of Europe’s only true desert climates – so unexpectedly it is very, very hot there! One person who did appreciate this climate though was John Lennon. Lennon sojourned to Almería in the 60s and it is in Almería where he wrote the mighty Strawberry Fields Forever. The Almería villa Lennon was staying at reminded him of Strawberry Field garden back home in Liverpool – a garden owned by the Salvation Army was near his childhood home. This villa’s garden inspired him so much that he went into the bathroom and almost instantaneously composed Strawberry Fields Forever. As well as John Lennon, Indiana Jones, the Game of Thrones crowd and a whole host of spaghetti western protagonists have also rocked up in the city to film. Almería is considered to be one of Spain’s most African cities with its architecture and general vibes, so I was excited to explore somewhere that had that African twist.
“Bar Crawl Spanish”
My first impressions of Almería weren’t too great to be honest. It was evidently pretty, but without being jaw-droppingly pretty. I realise now though that my initial impression was maybe soured by the timing of my arrival and the fact that I’m probably still yet to grasp the Spanish phenomenon of the siesta. I’d arrived between the quiet hours of 3-4pm on a Monday and after dropping off my stuff in my shitty hotel (I just booked the cheapest as it really was a last minute decision to come to Almería) I headed out into a ghost town. So the lesson I’ve learned is: don’t judge a Spanish city during siesta time. Almería did slowly open up to me and provided me with a great time.
A running theme for the rest of my 24 hours in Almería would begin at Bodega Las Botas. Firstly, the food is amazing – everywhere. Almería is a port city and thus seafood is in abundance, which is amazing for someone like me who loves seafood. I’m still learning some of the Spanish cuisine but the great discovery here was not from the sea at all; I fell in love with champiñones rellenos which is essentially garlic stuffed mushrooms. The ones here at Bodega Las Botas had even won 2nd place in the 2012 Andalucía Tapas of the Year awards the waiter proudly told me. The waiter himself also brings me on to the other amazing thing I found about Almería: the people.
Everywhere I went I was treated amazingly, starting with that waiter at Bodega Las Botas. He had endured me butchering the Spanish language, but sat with me and chatted for a bit and taught me how to say things properly as well as just chatting in general. Everywhere else proved the same. I even invented a new educational game I dubbed “Bar Crawl Spanish” which involved me making sure that someone in each bar taught me at least one new useful phrase in Spanish. And the game worked as well! I was remembering everything…that was until I pushed it and the bar crawl went on for longer and later than it should have and thus my silly, inebriated brain began to forget the evening’s learning. Nevermind, I’m sure those phrases are still in there subconsciously.
My whole night was spent drinking cheap beer and tapas-ing and I even discovered an international beer shop – an odd place with beers ranging from Lithuanian to Ecuadorean. The bar was devoid of light and was dark and dingy with men in the corner having a very intense conversation about the collection of graphic novels they had strewn over the bar. The barman was cool though and helped me pick a very strong Barcelona-based beer after it seemed his range of more exotic beers was depleted (I did really want the Ecuadorean beer).
The real favourite of the night was La Ancla, thanks to the again, very friendly, but boisterous, waiting staff. It was here where the excellent seafood food won with the finest swordfish I’ve ever had; admittedly probably the only swordfish tapas I’ve ever had now I think about it, but it was superb.
I winded back through the windy streets towards my hotel, stopping at various little bodegas and tapas bars on the way. Again, and not to sound like a broken record, everyone just seemed to be so friendly and welcoming. Quite a lot of the female waitresses seemed to want to move to the UK too and quizzed me on life there, to which I generally replied “And leave this food and sunshine behind?”
Alcazaba de Almeria
The next morning, it was time to indulge in some culture.
I’m Welsh and as a consequence of that it means almost by default that I love castles. Technically, Alcazaba is a fortress, but they’re all the same thing really aren’t they? Well, anyway, if you go to Almería you are certainly going to see the city’s Alcazaba and you are almost certainly going to want to go up to it. The huge fortress stands atop a hill looming over the city; at first glance it really does look high up, but I found the walk up a fairly gentle one really, which was much appreciated in the thirty degree heat.
On arriving I headed to the small ticket office and was ready to hand over some cash when the mustachioed gentleman behind the counter asked, “Where are you from?”
“Soy de Gales.” (It seems every time I say “Wales” I’m stared at blankly and so I’ve just started saying “Gales”, which seems to be understood immediately.)
“Okay, you do not have to pay then,” was the response I received after five seconds of him deliberating whether Gales was a country he liked or not.
“Really? Because I’m Welsh?”
“…and I like your football shirt.”
I was absolutely buzzing that me and my 18/19 Swansea away shirt had somehow charmed this man into letting me in for free, only to find out later that the Alcazaba is free to anyone regardless of nationality or what football shirt they are wearing. Crafty, charming Spanish ticket man.
You can probably see all of Alcazaba de Almería in less than an hour as access is granted to one of the three walled areas that make up one of Spain’s largest citadels. The castle dates back to the 900s before being finished in the 11th century. Like many of these structures in Spain, the Alcazaba changed hands from its original Arab settlers to the Catholics during the Christian conquests. The part of the fortress open to the public is the more modern part constructed by the Catholic rulers of Almería.
On entering via one of the towers, you arrive into a beautiful, sloping garden garnished with palm trees and quaint little fountains and streams. This leads up to m the main towers of the structure, which subsequently leads onto the more ruined part of the fortress. It’s really great to explore the nooks and crannies of the Alcazaba, but undoubtedly the highlight of the visit is the amazing views of the city and the Mediterranean below – worth the free entry alone!
Restaurant Chele Bar
I usual make a point of tweeting about where I’m travelling as usually one of my followers would have been there. If someone then recommends somewhere I’ll more than likely give it a go. Everyone has their different tastes in places of course, but I’ve found that 90% of the time it is usually worth a visit if someone recommends something to you – whether it’s for quality or quirkiness. So step up Twitter’s Spanish-loving ‘Dr Dave’ who pointed me in the direction of Restaurant Chele Bar, a bar he had visited and loved on his recent visit to Almería. This was the last place I was to visit in Almería and undoubtedly the best bar I visited. This is why you listen to recommendations.
It was mid-afternoon and the place was full enough to make me have to sit at the bar. The bar staff were running around all over the place, yet seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and ‘bantering’ with one another. The guy who served me was superb and recommended me the best tapas on the menu. Unquestionably the best bit about this place was that with every beer ordered there was a separate tapas menu to choose free tapas from – and even though it costed zilch, it was all uttery magnificent. The down side of this was I found myself drinking faster so I could carry on working my way through their fish-shaped tapas menu.
The previous night’s Spanish lessons – plus the beer – was boosting my confidence at speaking Spanish too and I was soon trying to talk to the young, Juventus shirt-wearing kid sitting next to me; I felt it essential to tell him that he should have had ‘RAMSEY 8’ on the back of his shirt and not ‘RONALDO 7’. We got by enough for him to tell me that I was wrong basically. “Pero soy de Gales,” I explained but I don’t think he knew what Gales was. Fortunately his grandad did and another broken Spanish/English chat ensued with the grandad telling me he supported local club Almería. I’m now a Málaga season ticket holder and I know I’m not meant to really like Almería, as grandad pointed out as he told me that he didn’t really like Malaga. I think he may have said something stronger originally, but I didn’t understand. Not to worry, I had a comeback of my own ready. When I said some of the previous night’s drunken Spanish lessons had stuck in my head, I was right – especially the lesson from the young lads at La Alca, who had taught me some swear words. So from nowhere, I blurted out “Mi cago en Almería.” I worried at first that I may have been too offensive to this old timer, but he burst out laughing and give me a big old slap on the back. I had basically told him “I shit on Almeria.”
“Eres Malaguista” (“You are a Malaguista”) he replied, much to my appreciation. I had officially just engaged in my first piece of Spanish language football banter. Estupendo.
And that was my final act in Almería, telling a man that I would shit on his football team, which seemed a bit harsh of me considering everyone in the city had been so utterly lovely to me. The tapas and beer made sure I got in a bit of a nap on the three hour coach trip back towards Malaga anyway.
I’d gone into visiting Almería blind really, having made such a last minute decision to visit, yet it turned out to be a fun way to do it. After arriving into what appeared to be a ghost town – or a town full of wandering Dutch women at least – the city seemed to slowly open itself up to me and give me a great 24 hours. If you are ever in Almería, I’d recommend having a couple of hours chilling on the beach during siesta time, then just head for the old town and wander aimlessly like I did. And talk to the locals as they are really great people. Once you’ve done the Alcazaba, you’ve pretty much done the city, so I would say 24 hours is more than enough to ‘do’ Almeria. Saying that, it would probably make a cool base if you want to travel around the area to places like Malaga, Granada and Murcia.
Having not visited the football stadium, I’ll of course be back in Almeria for more of tapas and Spanish lessons from bartenders. Maybe I’ll return on the Málaga away end so I can practice my Spanish insults more.