It's a long time since I've been on a plane. 666 days since I flew back to Gatwick from Narvik in the north of Norway, to be exact! Since then I've had a lot of trips to Scotland and even more trips to my new favourite county of Northumberland. But after Tim's successful trip to Poland last month and with Covid restrictions gradually decreasing, it became increasingly tempting to book a holiday abroad. I knew that I could have time off work in early November, and while that wouldn't normally be my preferred time of year to go away, it was at least helpful in allowing us to narrow down a shortlist of places which were permitting entry to British tourists and wouldn't be cold and rainy in November. After a lot of deliberation I ended up booking return flights to Malaga; not a place that has ever been on my bucket list, but after the best part of two years spent in the UK, the thought of going anywhere was incredibly exciting.
Of course, a combination of Brexit and Covid means that travel has become a bit more complicated since last time I flew. In preparation for going to Malaga I stocked up on different types of face masks and spent a considerable amount of time reading up on the latest Spanish restrictions. Spain is currently permitting entry to vaccinated travellers from the UK without the need to take a Covid test, so long as you can prove your vaccination status and fill in a piece of paperwork called the "Spain Travel Health" form in advance. The form, which has to be filled out 48 hours before you arrive in Spain, is in principle quite straightforward, but the website isn't going to win any prizes for being user-friendly. It took me a while to get through mine yesterday, but once I did I was emailed a QR code which I just needed to print and bring with me to show on arrival.
I got a really good deal on the flights out, paying £22 each for a ticket from Luton to Malaga. The only catches were that it cost an extra £25 to bring a suitcase and the flight itself was at 07.00. With airport parking booked for 04.30, this translated to an alarm set for 02.30 in the morning. An additional frisson of excitement was introduced into the proceedings by the fact that the clocks were switching from daylight savings time back to GMT at 02.00 this morning. I set my alarm for what I thought was going to be the right time and hoped for the best.
The good news is that the clocks did change when I expected, my phone automatically updated itself and we got up at the correct time The journey to Luton was easy, with very little other traffic on the roads, and the airport parking experience was fairly straightforward too. The airport itself didn't seem overly busy. We only queued for around 10 minutes at the EasyJet baggage drop to deposit our bags and significantly less than that at security, where we almost walked straight through. No one in Luton was interested in seeing our vaccination status etc; it was just the usual showing of boarding passes and passports.
We boarded the flight ahead of schedule and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't completely full. The seat next to us was empty, as was the entire row in front, so it didn't feel particularly crowded. That was good, because we ended up sitting on the plane for around half an hour before we were ultimately able to take off; the pilot said something about air traffic control restrictions over France.
It was very cloudy in the UK and it seemed pretty cloudy over Europe too, so there wasn't much of a view for the majority of the flight. It was only when we started to descend towards Malaga that we got our first glimpse of Spain.
We landed in Malaga around 40 minutes behind schedule and then spent another 30 minutes or so sitting in the plane on an obscure part of the runway, waiting for another plane to vacate our parking spot. Never mind, we weren't going to be able to check into our accommodation until 3pm, so it didn't really matter
Eventually we were able to disembark the plane and progress through the various checks at the airport. First of all we had the passport check, where I got my first post-Brexit passport stamp, and then we had the health check. It was all over in a flash; the staff scanned our QR codes from the Spain Travel Health forms, vaguely glanced at our vaccination certificates and that was it; we were officially in Spain
We collected our luggage and exited the airport, trying to find a shuttle bus which would take us to the place we'd hired a car from. Tim tracked down the shuttle and soon we were at the hire place, waiting in turn to get our car. First impressions of Spain were that it was seriously hot - way hotter than I had expected it to be in November. We were both wearing jumpers and trousers which hadn't felt particularly warm when we'd left Nuneaton at 3am this morning, but which now felt absolutely sweltering. The pilot had said temperatures would get up to 26 degrees celsius today and it definitely felt like it. Wearing a face mask made it feel even hotter. I hadn't found it to bad on the plane and had quite happily managed to fall asleep wearing it, but keeping it on in the heat was more of a struggle.
We were hiring a car from a company called Malaga Car, which wasn't the cheapest car hire company I found online but which for around EUR 400 was prepared to hire us a car without holding a massive excess on our credit cards. There were other companies hiring cars for closer to EUR 200 but with excesses up to EUR 1200, which made me rather nervous! I had deliberately hired the smallest car possible, thinking that would be easiest for parking and navigating on small Spanish streets, but even I was slightly surprised by the tiny mint-green Fiat 500 which we were eventually presented with We just about managed to squeeze ourselves and our luggage into it and then we were off!
It was only a drive of around 15 minutes or so into the centre of Malaga and we managed it without too many difficulties. Despite all the delays, it still wasn't quite 2pm and so we were a bit early for checking into the apartment. We got temporarily excited when we got a Whatsapp message from the owner asking for confirmation of the time we were arriving, thinking perhaps we might be able to check in a bit earlier, but it turned out that he couldn't accommodate us until 3. We drove around in circles for a while before finding somewhere where we could park the car for a bit and go and get a drink.
The parking situation in Malaga seems really difficult so I was glad that I'd booked an apartment with parking. And I was even more glad, when we eventually got there at 3, that I'd hired the smallest possible car. It turned out that to access the parking space we had to drive our car in a special car lift and travel down several floors underneath the apartment building It would definitely have been a struggle with a larger car!
Once the parking was sorted, checking into the apartment was easy. I'd realised after booking this one that the small print stated a cash deposit of EUR 150 was required on arrival, but we didn't get asked for that in the end which was a bonus The apartment itself is nice and comfy with a living and dining area...
... and small kitchen downstairs...
...then a separate bedroom and bathroom upstairs.
The bed looked very tempting given our extreme lack of sleep, but we hadn't eaten anything since a couple of shortbread biscuits on the plane so after a brief bit of unpacking we decided to walk towards central Malaga and try to find a restaurant.
The outskirts of Malaga are not particularly scenic, with lots of tall apartment blocks. Once we got closer to the centre it became more attractive and we got a glimpse of the edge of the old town.
In what might be a true stereotype of Brits arriving in Malaga, we eventually ended up eating chicken tikka masala In our defence, it was around 4pm by this stage so we had missed Spanish lunchtime and were still hours away from anything like a respectable Spanish dinner time, so we were just glad to find anywhere still serving food. And it was actually really nice
It felt so unusual to be somewhere warm enough to sit outside and eat dinner!
Tonight is definitely going to be an early night, but we're looking forward to exploring more of Malaga tomorrow