Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

We’ve just spent our fourth New Year’s Eve here in Torreblanca. That means we must have been coming out here at various times for about five years.

We like it.img_7595

Last new year, we’d hoped to explore the mountain walks (caminos), behind us, but were prevented by me having plantar fasciitis.  This year however, apart from aging knees and creaky bones, we have no such restriction.

We’ve already walked up to Mijas once this time, just before Christmas when we followed the trail we took with John and Carol in September and our first-time last April. The route is a tiring, nearly all uphill, walk that zigzags up the hill to eventually join the A-368 from Benalmádena to Mijas.

So – we’ve done that route three times now. [Update: I later went up again with John T and David T – and then YET again with Tony]

Today however, we set off to explore some of the different routes that might achieve the same end – i.e. get to Mijas.  So, as we didn’t intend to go all the way – just look along other roads and tracks, we took much more interest in the surrounding flora and fauna.

For a start, we found cattle grazing up there today. We often see sheep and goats being herded up and down the hillsides but have never before seen cattle.  It looked like they were being moved from one side of the river head to another but, what made me look twice was that they were being followed by several small white birds. I thought ‘little egrets’ but the pictures don’t look quite right. Certainly an egret of some kind, but I’m not sure which.

We’d always noted Rosemary in great amounts, huge bushes of the stuff, but today we saw bush after bush of Sage too! All these years and we’ve not seen sage before – we haven’t been able to see the wood for the trees!  Last year, I had to ask Rene at Montemare to get me some sage for something I was cooking as I couldn’t find any in the shops.  We also saw Thyme today, not huge amounts – but it’s out there.route_map

We can now walk from our apartment, under the motorway and up the hill side and over towards Carvajal. Then walk back down towards Torreblanca under the motorway again – by a different route.

Winter 2016/17

Well, we’re here in Spain again.  This will be our third Christmas (fourth New Year) out here – and our longest stay.

The attraction I have for Spain at this time of year is the extra hours of daylight and the warmth, although this year, this week has been the coldest we’ve had so far. At home, the day is disappearing by 3:45pm and is completely dark by 4:15pm whereas here I could still read a book outside at 6:00pm.  The sun has almost gone down by then but it doesn’t go properly dark until after 6:15pm. Although I say it’s the coldest so far, it is still far from unpleasant.  When the sun does come out and stays out it can easily get into the mid-twenties (24c-26c) but until today (21st December) it’s been fairly cloudy.

The Costa del Sol has had its share of winter weather this year, with floods all the way from Malaga to Gibraltar. goo.gl/8i7Zin. Now we’re here, we can see some of the after effects of those floods – they have done a tremendous job of clearing up, but on Tuesday last when we arrived here, there were still piles of debris all along the beach From Torreblanca to Fuengirola. By Thursday, they were removing those piles too, with truck after truck lining up to take it away.

Well done Ayuntamiento Fuengirola.

Back through France

From Hendaye, we continued up through France to Vouvray, just east of Tours on the north bank of The Loire. Traffic was not too busy but busy enough around Bordeaux. Sharon did  nearly commit murder in a service station en route!  I’d gone to the loo and left her looking out over our car parked in front of the café when a car pulled in and slammed their door into ours! Not being shy – Sharon darted out to catch the woman responsible before she left, but she (the door slamming, evil criminal) managed to evade Sharon’s wrath by backing out of the space and driving back on to the motorway, pretty quick sticks! We were left with a dinted door.30161183796_7e9823d524

The sun shone throughout the afternoon, but by the time we arrived at our Chambre d’Hote just outside the village, it had become chilly and we were glad of our Lidl ‘extras’. In Hendaye, it had been so cold that we had looked around for warmer clothing and found a tracksuit for me and a long sleeved shirt for Sharon in a Lidl just around the corner from our hotel.  As I say, thank goodness for those Lidl ‘extras’.

We walked into Vouvray twice while we were there; a 4.5-mile round trip each time. The first time was to explore the village (it’s tiny) and the second time to find food; there are several places – but we had to find them. Whilst there, we checked out one of the Caves and made some essential purchases. We ate at La Scala.

After a comforetable breakfast we continued our journey up through France to Boulogne. It being Saturday, we expected more traffic but the roads remained quiet and uneventful for the entire journey. Although we’ve visited the area around Abbeville lots of times, we’ve never been to Le Crotoy (and there’s quite a bit of mention in Bernard Cornwell’s book – Harlequin – which I’ve just read) so we called in there for lunch (I had a bucket of mussels!). We will certainly try to visit again, it looks lovely.img_7321

Our Boulogne Chambre d’Hote was right in the middle of the old town, yet we were (just) lucky enough to grab a parking space not too far from our bed. Our room was on the first floor and huge. The windows overlooked the town hall square, where this year they had planted a sensory garden. Well done Boulogne once again.

The Sunday roads in England were also surprisingly quiet. The M20, the M25 and then the M11 were a breeze. So setting off from Boulogne at 8.30am French time to catch a 9:50am train (on time) we were home for 3:00pm UK time.  Not too shabby.

Avila and Hendaye

We were met in Avila by Tony and Gill. They had travelled to meet us via Madrid where they were staying with their daughter Becky. They had taken the train out to Avila and had arrived about an hour before us. Tony and Gill suggested that we all have a drink first, as they needed something to eat, and that we should then walk around the city walls.

Built in the 12th Century the city walls are part of the reason Avila is named as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We started at Gate C (the bottom of town) and made our way up and around to the basilica at the top. Including the separate walk, at the other side of the basilica there are 1.7k of navigable walls.img_7287

The views both from and of the city walls are tremendous and this is certainly a city we would visit again. It seems odd for me, a tourist, to be glad that other tourists were in abundance and were not crowding the city. So, as there were no coach loads of folks following raised yellow umbrellas or filling the narrow city walls, as there were in the other cities – it was a delight.

As we had driven further north, the temperature had cooled noticeably. So much so that when out of the sun, it began to feel quite chilly (when in the sun however, it was still quite nice).

The journey from Toledo to Avila took us over some mountains and the views were terrific. In fact the entire journey was pleasant.  As was the first half of our journey from Avila to France.  The route via Valladolid is peacefully quiet and toll free – once the toll roads start they become a little busier but until Burgos, nothing like busy enough to make driving a chore.

I’ve also FINALLY worked out the Spanish motorway EXIT numbering system.  On the face of it, the system is shambolic and hard to understand with exit numbering bearing no resemblance to anywhere else on earth (unless you know different?).

HOWEVER – all motorways are mile-marked (or kilometre-marked in this case) and the exit number represents the closest kilometre-mark. EASY!

Once we hit the French border, we turned off and entered Hendaye, the nearest French town to Spain. This was a far busier than expected town – not sure what I did expect so close to the border with a ‘toll’ motorway thundering past about half a mile away. Of course, people use the town to cut across the old bridge to and from Spain – doh!

Cordoba

The journey to Cordoba, about two hours long, was uneventful.

The journey from the outskirts of the city to the hotel was however, somewhat trying. The hotel is right in the middle of the Jewish quarter of the old town. We knew that. What we didn’t know was that we would have to navigate tiny, narrow, cobbled streets to get to the hotel. We’d had a note from the hotel saying that we should not use our SatNav as it wouldn’t get us to them – instead we had to follow their instructions; which luckily and apart from one turn right at the beginning, were very much the same as the SatNavs. THAT was a stressful, wing mirror scaring drive. 

img_7244As was the route out of the city, which because we unwittingly chose school-start time to begin our journey, had lots of roads closed by local police to allow the scores of children, parents and old folks (!!!) to navigate the VERY narrow streets.

img_7250The city itself is blessed with historic buildings and areas and because we were there just one afternoon and evening we could hardly due them justice. A number were under repair/renewal too, so apart from the outside views, we didn’t do much except enjoy the mid-30s heat and street cafes. It’s useful to note that, unlike Seville and Salamanca, many of the shops were closed by 9:00pm.

We didn’t find that any of the food places close to our hotel were anything to shout about; in fact we didn’t really like anything we ate in Cordoba.  Not the best place to eat on an overnight stay.  However, we didn’t try either of the recommended ‘flamenco’ bars either. But there were execrable noises coming from both as we passed.

The journey to Avila, where we stayed on Wednesday was, apart from Sharon having to drive all the way, pleasant and uneventful.

September in the sun

As October begins and we begin our preparations to return to the UK, I have to ask: Who knew that September could be such a fabulous month for taking holidays?

Who knew!

As a child, the school’s six-week holiday was always mid/late July and all of August. Depending on the year, we might still be off school for a number of days in September, but not many. Holidays ‘away’ with parents were always limited to two weeks in late July as Huddersfield closed down for the ‘Textiles’ holiday, or in our case the ‘Engineers’ holiday. At least one week of those holidays were invariably spent in Blackpool. We did go to Great Yarmouth when I was 10 and to Weymouth when I was 11, but after that I rarely went with parents, preferring the weeks I spent camping with the scouts, and school trips.

My early working life was pretty much dictated by the same local holiday pattern before my own family life began and that meant that ‘main’ holidays were to be taken, as above, sometime in July/August.

I compounded this then by working in the education sector, where it can be difficult to take any time off work that is different to the students. So, only now that Sharon has divorced herself from ‘Education’ and we are both self-employed (both with ‘online’ work), can we contemplate going on holiday when we like. And we like September.

The very high temperatures we experienced on our journey down became somewhat muted, settling into the mid-high twenties and there were not the crowds I saw in August when I was here with Emma, Charlie and the girls. More and more snowbirds began to arrive as the month progressed and parking was a dream.img_7148

Readers will have noticed that we set off on September 2nd, stopping in Kent for the night before travelling down through France and Spain to our small apartment on the Costa del Sol. Here we were met by friends, who had also taken advantage of being old enough to leave the country in September. We spent some good times walking here and there, eating here and there and simply enjoying the glorious sunshine. For the last two weeks, Sharon and I have been here alone and that has allowed us to complete our work, to read copiously and to ‘scoot’, something we have done most mornings, along the paseo between Torreblanca and Carvajal.

And today, we depart for home. Our journey will take us to Cordoba tonight, then to Avila, where we will meet Tony and Gill who will travel by train from Madrid, where they are staying with Becky, their daughter. Then we will drive up through France staying in Boulogne on Saturday night and home by Sunday teatime.

National Day, Gibraltar

National Day in Gibraltar was good.

This annual celebration is organised by The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group.

“The Group was founded in 1992 to campaign for the recognition of the right of the Gibraltarians to Self-Determination, i.e. to decide our constitutional status, in our only home, Gibraltar”. Read more …

At its core, this is a political day, with on-stage discussions that follow a couple of hours of entertainment in Casemates Square, where a huge stage had been erected for the day (and evening)-long events to take place.

img_7049We’d arrived in Gibraltar early enough on Friday to walk in and have lunch there, before setting off to James and Michelle’s place in La Alcaidesa. After a few evening beers in the square, close to the beach, we returned and had a nice selection of food overlooking the pool (and the sea).

Graham and Sue joined us on Saturday morning and we all went into Gibraltar itself, in James’ mini-bus. The original plan had been to leave the van there and take taxis home, but he and Michelle had some work to do first thing on Sunday, so had to drive home.

James runs a company called Ultimate Rock Adventures [and Facebook]. Check it out.

We left Casemates Square as the political stuff began (today would mostly be about ‘Brexit’ and that would wind me up) and we wound our way to Eastern Beach, where we set out tables and chairs. Others, mainly James and Michelle’s family members, brought along ice, beer, wine, soft drinks and nibbles – Michelle ordered Chinese Food for 20 people to be delivered from La Linea to the border, where she picked it up mid-afternoon.img_7051

So then, much of the rest of the day was spent in the sea, sunbathing, drinking beer and eating Chinese food.  Mustn’t grumble. We were entertained by a small air display with what seemed to be two replica Spitfires, and by British Airways flights coming into land, just a few yards away – BA seemed to be the only company flying today.

A great day. Thank you James and Michelle.

We toodled back up to our place in Fuengirola on Sunday, unpacked the car (which took a while) and began to settle in ready for our trip home, early in October. On that trip we will take in Cordoba, Avila, Hendaye, Vouvray and Boulougne.

http://www.visitgibraltar.gi/event/national-day-2016/569