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

 

Seville

The drive to Seville from Elvas was fairly uneventful, we cut out as much of the motorway as we dared, but even that, when we joined it was quiet. We had two coffee stops, one in a very quiet road side bar, where I tried to hold a conversation about the weather with the girl serving (who said she was learning English) and another at the busiest rest stop you’ve ever seen – manic.

img_6978We also stopped at a town called Monesterio. This town seems to celebrate itself as ‘ham town’, with statues of ham and many ham shops in abundance. I’m guessing that as this is the Iberico ham region that the hams they celebrate here are amongst the finest produced in Spain. The town certainly has an air of quiet confidence (affluence even), with houses that are well kept, streets that are clean and shops that are busy.  We were simply looking for the monastery so didn’t stay for too long – but once again we were unable to find exactly what we were looking for. All streets seemed to lead away from the monastery.

Then, I found Seville to be THE most frustrating city.

They certainly sacked the town planners early in Seville’s existence (which, in the main was a good thing). What exists now is a maze of streets, roads and alleys that wind around in no particular order, going in no particular direction, but which produce a surprise around every corner.

Some of the buildings here in Seville are magnificent.

img_6999Our hotel was just outside the major road that circles the city, so getting ‘in’ required some delicate map work. Thank Goodness for my Maps.Me App http://maps.me/en/home which is simply GPS and doesn’t need internet connection. The tourist map given by all the hotels (and the tourist office) simply lies!  We were lost so often using that map that we had to resort to the Maps.Me App quite often. In fact, having clicked the hotel as a destination, we had to use the App to find our way back three times!  I have never seen so many tourists asking other folks the way to a, b or c – or, walking face down looking at their own phone Apps.

And yet, what a beautiful city! Some of the ancient architecture is sublime. See the Cathedral and the Torre del Oro and the Plaza de España. All gorgeous well maintained pockets of history. But also look and see some of the more modern structures, e.g. The Plaza Mayor, with its Las Setas de la Encarnación canopy.

iberico_hamIf I were to come again, I think I’d like to be more centrally situated – perhaps arriving by train or bus and have a full-on internet connection, so that I were able to find out more about each building (etc.) that I saw – when I saw it.

Now onto friends in Alcaidesa – ready for Gibraltar Day  (10th September)

http://www.jamon.com/index.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/travel/17journeys.html?_r=0

 

Into Portugal

We’re heading for Portugal today (Tuesday), a first for both of us. However, we are only dipping our toes in it, staying at Elvas, just a few kilometres from Badajoz.

The nearer we got to Salamanca yesterday, the greener the countryside became; not quite as green as we think of, but there were trees in abundance, something missing from the earlier part of the day’s journey.  As we left there today, heading directly south, there was much of the same but in the distance we could see the hazy peaks of what I assume were the Sierra de Grados.

28878423323_93fd28c120The route did become more mountainous, although by no means as high or extreme as the Pyrenees. We came across a sign (exit 455 just above Plasencia) for a Roman Ruin https://goo.gl/maps/Uji62V776o72  and we thought, given we needed a drink and a loo, that we’d stop and take a look.  Serendipity won once more, it was well worth the 6km unplanned detour, to experience the ruins and the rest stop (which was small but VERY busy). As we drove on towards Cáceres, it became hotter and hotter, reaching 43ºC at one stage. Phew. When we filled up the guy (jokingly) said ‘this is winter here is Spain’ – ha ha.

From here on, we seem to have passed into the olive belt. We have seen evidence of pig farms, cows grazing in the shade of moorland trees and mile after mile of olive trees, both before and after Cáceres, when left the dual carriageway (road number) and headed onto the EX100 heading for Badajoz at a steady 44ºC!

We’re staying in Elvas overnight, which has an impressive aqueduct just opposite the hotel. Our research has suggested that Elvas has a UNESCO World Heritage listing for its ancient fortifications and city walls.  It is certainly a little gem, which we would have enjoyed all the more if the temperature had been just a few degrees less than it was.  It was all we could do to walk up the hill into town and fall into a small, very local bar for beers and agua con gas. My first ever Sagre Beer.

We later explored the town and its shops in a little more comfort as the elevated position and narrow streets kept the temperature down to a more manageable level. We ate at ‘A Coluna’ and enjoyed the food very much. I had pork feather (!) and Sharon had Grilled Cod with toasted garlic. Both were were more delicious and better presented than my description sounds.

Into Spain

We had a good start to the day and had a relaxed and uneventful drive down through south west France (via Angouleme) and arrived in Pamplona just after four pm.

As we came off the Bordeaux Rocade and headed south, we noticed that the heavy roadworks we’d encountered last year were finished; or pretty much so, there were still bits around the Bidart area, so the drive was fairly easy. Also, to be remembered, there are no trucks on the roads on Sunday. However, every single rest-stop along the route was packed with trucks, laid over for the day. Driving down here on Monday mornings must be very interesting!

We asked Patrick, our new TomTom Go 5100 SatNav to take us over the Pyrenees to Pamplona and the route was a delight. As you rise higher you note that the trees have all taken on their autumn colours and look beautiful. The variety of colour adds another level to the normal views up here. Wonderful.

We spent the evening wandering around the town and eventually settled for a beer and some pinchos in one of the many bars there. See [Trip Advisor – link to follow].

The hotel car park (now seemingly typical, as I write this in our Salamanca hotel) was a very tight squeeze, especially as we were two floors underground. But we made it out without incident and were on our way just after nine. We stopped at a motorway station for breakfast and at another for lunch. These are much (MUCH) better than ours at home. For example, lunch (at a hotel/restaurant behind a Repsol petrol station) cost us €7.50 for two tapas, one pinchos and two bottle of water (one ‘con’ gas and one ‘sin’ gas). And we were full!

We arrived in Salamanca just before 3:00pm and spent siesta time in the room.

IMG_6933Our drive was pretty uneventful. You spend some time dropping out of mountains and then enter countryside that is flatter and even in some places, tree lined. This journey brought home something I heard some years ago when an Italian friend said that she always thought grass “was yellow”. No green grass at all here. At all.

About 5:30pm we set off to explore the city. Salamanca is very old and one of the first in Spain (as far as I can find out) to establish a university. This becomes obvious as you tour the city, with man ancient buildings given over to educating youth. After tiring ourselves out walking, we sat in a bar on the Plaza Mayor and enjoyed the antics of others. Then we moved along, grazing on tapas/pinchos in two delightful bars. Pork tongue indeed!

Favourite place today ‘Restaurante La Espada’

September Sojourn

Travelling through and from the UK these days, seems to be a trial of a pleasure. We set off on Friday, about 12:30pm and arrived in Gravesend at around 19:15pm – far too long a journey for such a relatively short journey. We had expected some short delays because it was Friday afternoon – but this was shocking.

We stayed at a Premier Inn just outside Gravesend, on the A2.  It was ok, the pub next door, The George, seemed to have a reasonable plastic menu and my noodle dish was fine. The beer was London Pride, served as the locals like it – flat and headless.

Now it’s Saturday morning and after not much sleep and getting up at 04:15am, we’re sat on the Eurotunnel car park waiting for our connection – which has been delayed by two hours due to a train ‘being stopped’ in the tunnel. The train before our planned 06:50am departure seems to have got away and ours was the first to be delayed.  Grrrr.
IMG_6883Once we eventually get to France, the plan is to make it to the Hotel Campanile, Poitiers Sud – hopefully that will be possible in time for some food, beer and sleep.

We eventually got under way about 09:00am, arriving in France before ten and shooting off down the motorway. The weather was fine (increasingly) all the way to Poitiers, but there were the odd delays as major lengths of road were under repair. Something to remember about trips through France in September?

Our final trial for today was that the exit we needed for our hotel was closed!  We knew early enough to detour, but there were so many roads under repair around the north of Poitiers that we missed the correct turning and ended up having to drive through the city itself. Then, the hotel is disguised. What as I cannot say, but it took us over half an hour to find, even though the SatNav said ‘you have reached your destination’! (Pics later when WiFi is better)

August

I’ve flown to Spain lots of time now. Not as many as some, I know, but more than I ever thought I would (at one time).

Today though, is the first time I’ve flown to Malaga in August!!!  In many ways I’m glad I travelled alone because worrying about what Sharon might have thought would have made it worse than it was.

First of all, ‘Security’ at Manchester Airport was horrendous. Not as slick as usual and not as many ‘belts’ open – perhaps that’s just Terminal 2? – but a much longer wait to get through than usual. LOTS of kids, LOTS of families (who has so many kids?).IMG_6596.JPG

Waiting for the gate number was blissful, boarding was blissful – but the plane; well, the plane had about the same adult to child ratio as a kindergarten. I shared ‘my’ three seats with a young couple trying to keep an 18-24 months old girl entertained. The girl herself was well behaved (for an 18-24 months old) but the entertainment included toilet, picking things off the floor, toilet, picking things off the floor, picking up my iPad, smiling, and so on. Not too horrendous, but verging on the nerve-wracking!

Then, having made a hasty escape from the plane I boarded a super-crammed train to Los Boliches. It seemed the whole of Torremolinos (and most of Benelmadena) had been out to Malaga for the day. I HAD TO STAND! Stand for goodness sake – this is Spain, who stands?

IMG_6605.JPG

Then, once the train got quieter, I spent quality time talking to a chap from Hull – who told me about a Spanish gimmer-pass that would allow me to get 50% off train travel. Quality – I need to check that out NOW!

Journey Home

This week’s trip back from Spain was the most stressful we’ve ever had.

We’d set off in good time for our 17:25pm flight, leaving time to get a little fuel (we were on a ‘return half full’ policy), to drive the 20 minutes to the airport, to drop the car off at Malagacar.com and be through security 90 minutes before the gate opened. No worries.

However, once we dropped down the slip road at Los Boliches we saw that the A7 (just at the point where it is joined by the AP7) was blocked solid and only moving very, very slowly. We could see that this continued right up the hill towards Benalmadena and decided therefore to come straight off (there are three slip roads at this point and the final one returns to Los Pacos/Finlandia/Torreblanca) and take the coast road through Benalmadena and Torremolinos to the airport.

For almost 30 minutes we thought that this was a BIG mistake. The coast road was crawling along even slower than the motorway. At first we thought that this was because others had taken the same decision as us, to take the N340 and avoid the motorway.

9934913693_92ac6085c0Then we came across the JCB!

The coast road hold-up was caused by a JCB! Nothing more.

The rest of the journey was as uneventful as any journey on that road (I got lost just the once, near the airport and not in Torremolinos, which would have been a nightmare) and luckily it was siesta time, or it might have been more eventful.

Security at the airport was a breeze but the plane took off 35 minutes late. This was unannounced; we suspect because the crew were (possibly) delayed by the incident on the motorway. However, the pilot made good time and we could have landed just a little later than planned – but – we were forced to abort the landing because of ‘debris on the runway, possibly birds, probably dead birds by now’ and go around again. This made us very tight for our 20:20pm train home. We’d also been forced to put Sharon’s on-board bag in the hold because the flight was full (they brooked no argument – ‘don’t fly then!’), so that delayed us at the airport in Manchester.

We ran like the wind to catch the train. Really, we did.

We were on the platform when the guard closed the doors, in fact we were nearer than that: one second earlier and we would have had our hands on the doors!  However, a sad smile and a whistle was all we got from the guard – plus a missed train.

Bugger!

Fortunately, there was another train slightly later, which meant a change in Manchester and a missed connection in Huddersfield. However, despite all of the above we were home only 35-40 minutes later than planned. Phew.