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Retirement Plan - Part 2

June 2017 - May 2019
June 2017 - May 2019
  • Day669

    Final stop on the Spanish coast

    April 5 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    For our final stop on the Spanish coast, we headed to the Costa Dorada (Golden Coast) and checked into Camping Playa Montroig.

    The campsite had just re-opened for the summer season and is located close to the towns of Cambrils and Salou, is 30km south of Tarragona and about 100km south of Barcelona. The site is the largest (1200 pitches) and swishest we have ever stayed at, as well as being the most expensive on the continent at €31 euros per night. But it is right on the beach and has great facilities while further north it is windy and raining. So, we decided to stay down on the coast where the sun is still shining and then do a quick dash up to the north coast to catch our ferry back to the UK next week.

    During our stay here, we took the opportunity to visit the bustling port town of Tarragona, home to Spain's second most important Roman ruins. Chris negotiated the twisty, busy roads of the city centre while I tried to read the road signs over his shoulder. Between us we managed to park up right next to the historic centre with panoramic views down to the port and big container ships moored out to sea waiting their turn to come in to load up.

    We wandered around a corner and came upon a very well-preserved Roman amphitheatre overlooking the beach. Within the arena were the remains of 6th & 12th century churches built to commemorate the martyrdom of a Bishop and two deacons believed to have been burnt alive here in AD259. Not sure which is worse, that or being hacked to death by gladiators or wild animals!

    The small historic centre had plenty of ruins to see with good story boards to go with them so that we could easily picture the chariot racing that took place there.

    In September each year, the city celebrates the Santa Tecla Festival where teams of castellers build human castles by standing on each others shoulders up to 9 levels high. We saw great photos of this event but will have to come back too see the real thing.
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  • Day665

    Paella cooking school

    April 1 in Spain ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    Valencia is the birthplace of paella and therefore the best place to learn how to produce this quintessential Spanish dish.

    We signed up to a course at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana (Valencia School of Rice & Paella) and had a fabulous and fun time learning the tricks of the trade.

    First off was a trip to the central market to buy the ingredients. Constructed in 1928, the covered market was a foodies delight with over 500 stalls. Valencia is surrounded by huertas, market gardens, which provide the market with the freshest fruit and vegetables. Our guide talked us through the process of choosing the correct paprika (smoked for a Valencian paella which is chicken, rabbit and mountain snails and sweet for a seafood paella). We stopped off to buy 2kg of small rock fish that would be used to make a rich fish stock and smelt the rich aroma of the pure saffron which, at €4500/kilo, we were careful not to drop.

    Back in the kitchen, appropriately attired in our chefs hats and aprons, we listened as our professional, top for the day, Pepe, as he explained and demonstrated each step of the dish. Most students were making the traditional Valencian paella but one had chosen to do the seafood version so we had the chance to learn about both. Tip - a Valencian paella would never mix mountain and sea, so it's either meat or seafood. You would never add chorizo either! Nothing was weighed or measured but Pepe shared his tips on how much oil, water and rice to add to the pan.

    After all our hard work, we then sat down with our fellow students to enjoy the results of our labour, which was served with a tortilla starter that the kitchen had prepared for us and delicious wines.

    We had a great time with fellow students from across Europe, and would recommended this to anyone who has an interest in cooking. We look forward to putting this new experience into practice and are now on the hunt for a small, paella dish!
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  • Day653

    Visiting Valencia

    March 20 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Camping Valencia, 20km north of Valencia, made for a great base from which to visit Spain's third-largest city by train.

    The original city of 'Valentia' was founded on the banks of the Rio Turia in 138BC but was later destroyed in 75BC. The Moors made Valencia an agricultural and industrial centre, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries and they introduced rice cultivation.

    Its golden age was in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the city was one of the Mediterranean's strongest trading centres, before Seville took that title away and a decline began. The industrialisation of the 19th century led to the development of a lucrative citrus trade to northern Europe and to this day Valencian oranges are everywhere.

    Severe floods in 1949 and 1957 led to the Rio Turia being diverted away from the city centre and the dry riverbed was converted into a park, that winds through the city for 9km, providing the Valencians with a large, green space on their doorstep. How original!

    We arrived at Estacion del Norte, right on the edge of the historic centre, and made our way to Horchateria de Santa Catalina for a glass of horchata, a Valencian speciality, and - don't laugh - fartóns! The sugary, opaque drink is made from crushed chufas, which despite the name tiger nut, is actually a tuber. Into this you dip large finger-shaped buns called fartóns.

    Fortified by fartóns, we headed across the square to visit the cathedral where an excellent audio guide navigated us around. Built over the mosque after the 1238 conquest, the cathedral is mostly gothic in design with rich italianate frescoes. Recent renovations include a modern museum where you can get up close to centuries old artifacts and paintings. However, we could not get very close to the cathedral's crowning glory, the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ sipped during the last supper. Apparently, the dating of the cup would suggest it could be true.

    After a delicious and great-value 5-course sampler lunch at Restaurant Delicat, we wandered the narrow streets and squares admiring scenes that reminded us of our time in Sicily. We climbed to the top of Torres de Serranos, one of only two remains of the imposing 14th century city walls and looked across the rooftops of the city and down into part of the Turia gardens. We weren't the only ones there though, groups of French and German students were all eagerly taking selfies, taking the volume levels up a notch or five!

    Whilst Valencia is a large and elegant city, it does have a laid-back feel as if the locals are very happy letting Madrid and Barcelona take the limelight, leaving them to get on with enjoying life there.
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  • Day653

    Jávea, Costa Blanca

    March 20 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    The drive to our next destination, Jávea, took us along the coast road, past busy Alicante and even bigger and busier Benidorm, and through the centre of pretty Altea before the road became steeper and twisty as we began to climb higher before turning off and heading down to Camping El Naranjal.

    Jávea is a small town, set in a beautiful bay, that has resisted the high-rise developments. Divided into three areas; the old town, the marina and the beach, and surrounded by the mountains of the Montgó Natural Park, it is a place that we quickly felt at home in.

    Our campsite, once an orange grove and still surrounded by them, was small and friendly with the beach area and most other things just a 5 minute walk away. The old town, with its great market, narrow streets and inviting restaurants and shops, and the marina, were further away but made for a good walk which was rewarded by a cool drink and tapas overlooking the bay.

    With the bike we went to the most eastern tip at Cabo de la Nao where, on a clear day you can see Ibiza, but not the day we were there, though the dramatic cliffs and indented coves below made up for it. On another trip, we took the narrow, twisty scenic road over to Denia, a major passenger port for the nearby Baleric islands. There were some very fancy boats in the marina there, which is much larger than the one in Jávea, but the old town is very attractive to wander around with lots of interesting restaurants set in pretty squares. On the way back, we stopped halfway at the lighthouse for a fantastic, panoramic view of Javeá and the bay.

    Our visit also gave us the opportunity to meet up with friends Ray and Mel who have made Jávea their home after many years in Asia. Though we hadn't seen each other for a long time, it did not feel like that at all as we caught up on news and enjoyed each others company, as well as Mel's paella!

    As we enjoyed a sundowner, watching Montgó mountain change colour in the evening sun and with the orange blossom fragrance filling the air, we wished we could stay longer but it wasn't possible on this occasion. But that was OK because we will definitely be back.
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  • Day645

    Mennems in Murcia!

    March 12 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    From our base at Lo Monte campsite in Pilar de la Horadada, on the Mar Menor, we were only a few miles from friends Michelle and Shaun, whom we had met the previous year when skiing in the Sierra Nevada. A lovely catch up and lunch next to the beach was followed by a surprise visit to see Orlando, Michelle's ex-racehorse. Eager to show us what a beauty he is, she asked if we would like to ride him. It wasn't for me, not being very confident around horses, but Chris was very happy to switch from a motorbike saddle to a horse saddle for a walk around the paddock.

    It was also a great base from which to visit the city of Murcia on the banks of the Rio Segura. What a gem of a city it is; small enough to visit on foot, full of beautiful architecture and elegance, and delicious tapas.

    The 1748 baroque facade of the Catedral de Santa Maria reminded us of our time in Sicily, though this had originally been built in 1394 on the site of a mosque, like most of the cathedrals and churches in Spain. Whilst the interior was impressive, the chapels, choir and main altar were all behind black iron railings which gave a feeling of oppression rather than welcome. We found that very strange.

    Next we visited the Real Casino de Murcia (Royal Casino), which opened as a gentlemen's club in 1847, and remains so though the ground floor is open to the public. It has quite recently been restored to its former glory and given the Royal seal of approval by King Juan Carlos. The building is a melting pot of different designs and an audio guide navigated us through a colourful Moorish-style patio, a classic English-style library with 20,000 books, a ballroom with glittering chandeliers, and a ladies powder room with a ceiling fresco of cherubs and angels.

    Feeling peckish, we headed over to Piazza San Pedro which was buzzing with restaurants and tapas bars. We ordered a selection of impressive tapas including a mouth-watering ceviche that we could have eaten over and over again, cod with pork fat crumb and squid-ink sauce, and croquettes of mushrooms and black pudding. All delicious.
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  • Day643

    Time to visit Vera!

    March 10 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    We headed to Camping Indalo, on the outskirts of the town of Vera, to see our friends Yvonne & Ross who live close by. Having never been to this campsite before, we followed the directions and began to wonder where we were going when we ended up on a road that was taking us into the Spanish back of beyond and then through a tennis club, that led to the campground. We needn't have worried when we picked our spot on the top terrace with panoramic views of the surrounding multi-coloured rocky hills, which changed colour throughout the day as the sun moved across them.

    Our first night there coincided with an Open Mic Nite in the campsite restaurant where Chris was enthralled by a Cajon, a complete drum kit set-up within a wooden box. Small and compact, yet with a big sound. I can see a purchase coming on!

    A stroll along the beachfront and then lunch overlooking the beach in Mojacar with Yvonne and Ross was the best way to spend a brilliantly sunny day.

    The coastal road north of Vera looked very inviting and so we took a bike ride up to Aguilas where we found the town in full on party mode getting ready for the final night of their Carnival celebrations. It was much more peaceful from the castle ramparts where we could see for miles all around as we surveyed the land and sea. The castle had been recently restored and gave the visitor a good idea of how life would have been in the 16th century. Chris was quite taken by the kitchen display and could see himself preparing a meal for us without too much difficulty.

    We look forward to returning before too long.
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  • Day639

    Cabo de Gata - Europe's desert

    March 6 in Spain ⋅ 🌬 18 °C

    With less than 200mm of rain in an average year, Cabo de Gata, which sticks out into the Mediterranean, is described as Europe's only true desert, and with good reason. The 340 sq. km area of coast and hinterland is a protected marine and land nature reserve, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997.

    Of volcanic origin with an extremely arid climate, rich in mineral deposits and yet sun-baked and wind swept, you feel as though you are in a completely different world from the Iberian peninsula that lies behind.

    We stayed at Los Esculos campsite and enjoyed visiting the area by motorbike. The roads were made for two wheels. Small, white villages with cubist buildings stood out against the deep red and green background with a dusting of colour from the spring flowers, though we were told that the dry winter meant that the flower displays were much smaller this year.

    As well as the dramatic cliffs of the coastline, the town of Nijar, 24 miles inland, is also included in the nature reserve and is well worth a visit. Located on the lower slopes of the Sierra Alhamila, the many springs ensure a constant water supply, which was of great importance in the towns development over the ages. We climbed the steps up to the old lookout tower for a panoramic view of the area. On the way up, we came across some wonderful cave houses, that are available to rent, and met the friendly British owner, Chris, who showed us around. Nijar is a very traditional town with locals producing quality ceramics, and woven goods.

    The only downside to this area is the belt of plastic green houses running close to the main road, providing year-round fruit and vegetables for much of Europe. We have no issues with the greenhouses, but we were astounded by the amount of disguarded rubbish and shabbiness of this area. A few people were living in make-shift homes, part fallen-down wall, part plastic sheeting, who obviously had no respect for the environment but then we didn't see any signs of rubbish bins or collection by the local council. It was a very strange sight on the edge of a nature reserve.

    Despite this, we would come back here to enjoy the remote and wild nature that it has to offer.
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  • Day633

    Andalusia Day in Malaga

    February 28 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Our journey from Portugal to Spain took us around busy Seville (which would have been quicker had the outer ring road been completed!) and then on to a campsite overlooking La Vinuela lake, a perfect location in order to visit our friends Nigel and Tracy whom we hadn't seen for a year.

    Unfortunately, Tracy was back in the UK but we entertained ourselves in her absence with a trip into the historical centre of Malaga. It was a beautiful day and the streets were packed with Spanish families enjoying the outdoors but shouldn't the children have been at school and the parents at work on a weekday? Normally yes, but it was Andalusia Day and everyone was making the most of a day off.

    We wandered around the old town, which has been beautifully restored; pedestrian streets flanked by both modern shops and traditional tapas bars, as well as a Gothic cathedral and the Alcazabar complete with a roman amphitheatre. The port area has been rebuilt and now welcomes cruiseships to swell the town's coffers.

    There are lots of green spaces throughout the busy centre with wild parakeets screeching through the treetops and a golden, sandy beach along its edge.

    The next day we met up with Peter and Sally, friends of Nigel and Tracy that we had met the year before, for a beachfront lunch. Fish, octopus, lamb and goat were all enjoyed as we caught up with one another.

    Wish we could have stayed longer but we look forward to returning later in the year.
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  • Day628

    It's been a busy few days!

    February 23 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    A weekend of absolutely gorgeous weather made for getting out and about on the bike and it started with 168 of them!

    Our campsite location coincided with one of the 5 stages in the 45th Volte do Algarve, a professional cycle race across the Algarve with international teams taking part. As we joined other spectators on the side of the road, the police arrived and, at the appointed time, closed off the road to allow the huge pack of riders through. We looked in amazement as the cycling throng descended the hill before us and then swiftly divided into two packs to circumnavigate the roundabout. Blink, and you missed it.

    Out on our bike, we did a three-centre day trip taking in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which looks eye-to-eye with Spain across the Guadiana River, the impressive 14th century castle and lunch in Castro Marim which is a typical Portuguese town of white-washed houses, and finally Cacela Vehla, a tiny cobble-stoned, historic town overlooking the start of the sandy islands that make up the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.

    As if that wasn't enough, the next day we headed down the road to the fishing village of Santa Luzia and Praia do Barril, a stunning offshore beach with miles and miles of white sand that ranks in the Top 10 beaches of the Algarve, if not No. 1 in our opinion. We crossed the bridge that connects the mainland with the island, and then rather than taking the small tourist train to the beach, we chose to take the path instead and read the story-boards about the various birds on the way. Buildings that once housed tuna fishermen and their families are now home to a couple of restaurants, but fortunately the tourist factor has been kept low-key here. Alongside the buildings is an anchor cemetery where rows of varying sized anchors lie part-buried the the sand as a reminder of times gone by.

    Santa Luzia is famous for its octopus and we were looking forward to sampling some. Chris made a great choice of an octopus stew with black pudding, smoked ham, beans and rice. I didn't make such a good choice in deep-fried octopus patties but the location was superb, as we sat in the sunshine overlooking the beach front.
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  • Day627

    Friday in Faro

    February 22 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    From our new base at Campsite Ria Formosa, near Tavira in the eastern Algarve, we jumped on the bike to visit Faro, the capital of the Algarve and a place that is sometimes overlooked by visitors who just pass through heading to and from the airport.

    We spent our time wandering around the cobbled streets of the old town and around the marina. Within the medieval walls the centrepiece is the cathedral, completed in 1251 but, like everything else down here, it was badly damaged in the 1755 earthquake and todays version is a mixture of gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture. The interior was beautifully decorated with tiles, painted wood and a gilded alter. The baroque organ was being played and added atmosphere to our visit. We think all churches and cathedrals should have music playing or choirs singing in between masses. It really makes a difference! The cathedral also houses a small museum of priestly vestments, chalices and grisly relics of St. Bonifaces forearms. However, more macabre was to come outside with a shrine built of monks skulls and bones! We climbed the tower and came out onto a terrace housing the bells with magnificent views across the city and the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve, where the sand banks would make for tricky navigation.

    The square in front of the cathedral was lined with orange trees that were in full blossom and their fragrance filled the air as bees and insects gorged on the nectar.

    We had lunch outside on the upper floor of a restaurant overlooking the marina and enjoyed the sun shine while watching the world go by below.

    A lovely day.
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