Posts Tagged ‘journey’

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!


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.

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  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’

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 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.


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.