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Marbella- The upscale beachtown with international flair

This article was written by Dexter Gauntlett, a Political Science major at UCLA who lived in Madrid, Spain and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown

...home to the Paris-Marbella Galeria de Arte, the museum of contemporary recorded Spain, a futuristic outdoor bonsai garden, burgeoise tourists, and according to local taxi drivers, a strong Mafia presence... who could ask for more?!

Outside of Barcelona the word “modern” is hard to utilize when describing Spanish cities. Daily three-hour siestas close shops faster than the Inquisition throughout the country and the most popular topics of conversation are the Spanish Civil War or World War 2. However, there is one mysterious beach town that is taking steps to join the ranks of Barcelona´s trendy pop-culture... sort of.

Marbella (beautiful sea), located on the majestic southern coast of Spain is about one-hundredth the size of Barcelona but is home to the Paris-Marbella Galeria de Arte, the museum of contemporary recorded Spain, a futuristic outdoor bonsai garden, burgeoise tourists, and according to local taxi drivers, a strong Mafia presence... who could ask for more?!

Even though much of these sites are located in buildings that are remnant of ancient Roman, Arabic, and Visigoth cultures, Marbella hums to a much more modern tune. The most popular place to start your day is from the tropical sandy beaches which are typical of Spain in that they are clothing optional. And with a coastline of bars only a few steps away, it´s easy to become a Marbella beach bum. A wise investment in the battle against skin cancer is a reclining beach chair and large beach umbrella that hotel vendors are anxious to provide for between $3-$9 a day.

As clear as the new pair of sunglasses resting on your suntanned nose, the real draw to Marbella is it´s water. Swimming is always fun, but it turns quickly into snorkling when schools of Mediterranean fish swim by. I found the most relaxing way to enjoy the marine life was to lie down on a raft (which you can buy in local beach shops anywhere) with my face just above the water, floating peacefully in the sun. If you stand in the water, even just a few feet off shore, fish will undoubtedly come to explore and perhaps nibble on your toes!

If you decide to peel yourself off the sand and head into town, you´re in for a treat. Once you break through the fortress of pricy beachfront hotels, the city returns to it´s quaint flower decorated villa. Walking through the streets, it is easy to become familiar with the small town. Plaza de Naranjos (Plaza of the orange trees) is the city center and is actually very unique from most other main plazas in Spain in that orange trees (who would have thought?) and well manicured gardens surround the hundreds of restaurant tables that flood the plaza. Meals here will be relatively pricy, but such is the life for a budding burgeoise society. Take advantage of the “catch of the day” which probably was caught just a few hours before.

A summer favorite, typical of the southern region of spain, is gaspacho, a cold tomato and spice soup Spaniards eat to cool off, and is served anytime of the day.

And fear not for theose who don´t want to drop a wad of cash to hear people discuss opera and how expensive their hotel is- a box or bottle of sangria (a Spanish alcoholic drink comparable to a mixture of wine and fruit juice) with bread and salami is a personal favorite. Feel free to set up camp on the outskirts of the plaza or right on the beach.

Marbella has an active night life with international acclaim – primarily from Saudia Arabia. It is not uncommon during the summer to see one of the Saudi Princes surrounded by five body-guards ordering drinks for any female within ten feet as he watches his favorite dancers perform for him. Marbella even has some recent political significance in that in October, one of the Saudi Princes called President Bush while on his 120 meter personal yacht to tell him Saudi Arabia will allow use of their military bases in an attack on Iraq.

If one of the princes doesn´t invite you stay on his yacht for the weekend, finding a place to stay in Marbella can be pricy. Hotels are the most expensive, but there are picturesque “pensiones” that are small rooms in an apartment building which range from $12-$25 a person. Hostalling International is where most of the young people stay and is $10 a night with their membership card, and $15 without- just ask at the tourist information center in Plaza de Naranjos for directions.

And lastly, what modern city would be complete without offering the very latest in plastic surgery? You will most likely see a handful of people with bandages around their faces, these are recent recipients of new noses and “fuller” lips. So if you have an hour or two to kill before your train leaves and feel the need to “enhance”, just look for the massive billboards around the center of town.

Click here for the Urban Lowdown website.

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