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

 

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’