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  • Day930

    Friends along the Spanish south coast

    December 22, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Over the past few weeks we've made our way along the southern Spanish coast, heading for Camping El Naranjal in Jávea where we shall stay for a couple of months. During our trip, we were able to catch up with friends along the way.

    First stop was la Vinuela, inland from Velez-Malaga, to see Nigel and Tracey. Over huge gin & tonics we caught up and enjoyed a few days together with great food, a walk in the campo and a proper Sunday roast.

    The journey to our next stop was through pouring rain and strong winds but we had a rendezvous with Ross & Yvonne to keep. We certainly made an entrance upon arrival at Camping Indalo in Vera. The heavy rain had made some of the ground unstable where new landscaping had taken place. This resulted in getting stuck in mud and being towed out by the campsite tractor! Even though we had covered them in mud as they tried to help us out, fellow Brits, Ian & Denise, invited us onto their motorhome for a brew as we waited for the tractor to arrive. Next day we headed over to stay with Ross & Yvonne who are on a Canary island cruise over Xmas. So, we pretended it was Xmas Day and enjoyed a delicious turkey lunch with all the trimmings, crackers, hats and pud, followed by sitting in front of the tv to watch 'Pinball Wizard' the latest film about Elton John.

    From here we checked in to the largest campsite we have ever stayed in (1300 pitches!), to see our Dutch friends, Hans & Mireille, again and together visit the beautiful historic centre of Alicante with fantastic panoramic views from the castle. We then met up with Michelle & Shaun and Bob & Diane for a superb Chinese lunch in Torrevieja to hear about what we had all been up to since we were together in Switzerland in August.

    Our last stop was Camping El Naranjal in Jávea, also home to friends Mel & Ray and their dogs Twiggy & Macy. No sooner had we arrived and we were introduced to some of their friends at their Xmas get together at their home. A week later, and we are currently house/dog sitting for them for a few days. They have a lovely villa located under the Montgo mountain with far reaching views of the surrounding area. Having one elderly, sick dog and one young, energetic dog to care for has certainly kept us on our toes. We now have an understanding of what having kids must be like!

    We shall be having a quiet Christmas Day together, with the local English supermarket providing some special treats. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all
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  • Day893

    The Sherry Golden Triangle

    November 15, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    We have just spent the past 10 days in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, south west Spain, in a rustic aire 50m from the sea inlet and beaches of the Rio Guadalquivir, that runs all the way to Seville, Cordoba, and beyond. The aire is quiet and basic but has plenty of water so we've used on board showers during our stay here. The washing machine has been one of the best (and cheapest at €3) and the drying facilities are quite unique - see photo. The only downside is that the electric is so weak that anything with a heating element does not work. That's fine, we use gas, but it has led to some interesting hairstyles having no hairdryer and hence no photos of me!

    We have fallen in love with this part of Andalusia, which locals refer to as the 'real' Spain. We cannot disagree with them. This area is known as the 'Golden Triangle' because it encompasses the famous sherry producing towns of Sanlúcar, Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Each town has its own microclimate that gives its sherry a unique character and style which enables connoisseurs to distinguish the bodegas (sherry producer) by their height above sea level, aspect to the wind and proximity to the water.

    But our visit hasn't all been about sherry. The changeable weather meant a forced stay indoors for a few days, though we managed some beach walks in between showers, and we made the most of the sunshine to visit some sights nearby.

    Sanlúcar itself, apart from being most famous for its ultra-dry Manzanilla sherry that cannot be produced anywhere else, is an understated, but thriving regional town noted for its fish restaurants and horse-racing on the beach in the summer months.

    Chipiona, just 4km away, is home to Spain's tallest lighthouse, with long sandy beaches and a pretty seafront. The beautifully renovated church of Nuestra Senõra de la O, right on the seafront, is a must visit. Out of tourist season, we had it all to ourselves.

    Further down the coast, we visited Rota, a place that Chris had sailed in to when did was based in Gibraltar doing his Yachtmaster qualification. It's also home to a huge naval base. After wandering around the old winding streets, we stopped at a small bar for a tapas lunch of tender deep-fried cuttlefish with garlic potatoes. Making our way back to the marina, we came across many pretty squares and fountains as we turned each corner, as well as a monument to Christopher Columbus who had set sail from these shores.

    A sunny Sunday morning was the perfect time to make for Jerez de la Frontera. We navigated our way through a thriving flea-market underneath the walls of the Alcázar, and found the Tourist Office where we got some great recommendations for a walking tour which took us down narrow, cobbled streets, past magnificent palaces and grand buildings, through beautiful squares and all around locals where dressed in their Sunday best socialising with family and friends in outdoor restaurants and bars. We ended up in El Pasaje, the oldest tabanco (tiny bars where, in the old days, sherry was poured from the cask and tobacco was smoked). As we sampled some local sherry and nibbled perfect tapas, we were treated to a fantastic flamenco trio. We really felt that we were in the 'real' Spain.

    Just like Christopher Columbus, we will return to this region and set out again to enjoy more of the gastronomy, see the 'pueblos blancos', do a proper visit of the famous bodegas, watch the magnificent white Anadalucian horses being put through their paces and, of course, make a trip to the Jerez race circuit.
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  • Day862

    Cáceres & Trujillo

    October 15, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    When we last visited Cáceres in 2018, the weather was so bad that our planned 3-day stay turned into one as we left to find better weather. This time, the sun was shining which made for some exploring.

    The municipal campsite where we stayed is quite unique in that every pitch has it's own bathroom with individual boilers, so plenty of hot water on demand.

    The 'Cuidad Monumental' (Monumental City) in the centre of Cáceres was founded by the Romans in 34 BC. In the 12th century, defensive walls and towers were built over the Roman foundations. Like everywhere else in these parts, first the Visigoths ruled, then the Arabs, and Christians then followed with King Alfonso IX of León incorporating the city into his kingdom. Wealth brought back from the Americas enabled the city to build impressive churches and palaces. Also brought back from the Americas, as a conquistadors wife, was Isabel Moctezuma, daughter of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. What she must have thought of all this is anyone's guess. Also, we've noticed that the name 'Isabel' became very popular during this period, Queen Isabel was obviously very popular or very powerful!

    Few people actually live here now, though the modern-day town that surrounds it is home to around 96,000 people, and to wander around it feels like taking a step back in time with narrow, cobbled streets that twist and climb, and grand buildings decorated with gargoyles, spires and turrets that remain unchanged since the 16th century, worthy of its UNESCO accreditation.

    The historic town of Trujillo is also recognised as one of Spain's 'Most Beautiful Towns' and now we know why. Some 30 miles from Cáceres, our bike journey took us across golden dry plains, the only inhabitants seemed to be cattle and sheep, but there, in the middle of nowhere, high on a hill, was the medieval town of Trujillo.

    The beautiful and atmospheric Plaza Major, surrounded by baroque and Renaissance buildings, is a stunner with a large bronze equestrian statue of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro taking centre stage. We sat in one of the pretty restaurants overlooking the square marveling at the views in front of us. We were also marvelling at what Chris chose for lunch - scrambled eggs with prawns and gulas. I had no idea what 'gulas' were but Chris said had a pretty good idea. Traditionally, 'angulas' are baby eels or elvers, eaten when they are 2-3 years old, just a couple of inches long. However, over-fishing has meant that the price compares with caviar today. Hence, what we see in restaurants and supermarkets are imitations made of compressed fish but which definitely look like the real thing. Thank goodness, or maybe not.

    From the 600m high 10th century castle of Islamic origin, we had fantastic panoramic views as we patrolled the battlements before we climbed into the Chapel of Our Lady of the Victory, the towns patron saint, where a 50 cent coin would see her spin on her stand - we didn't.

    After all the churches, basilica and museums that we have visited recently, it was just nice to wander around these two atmospheric towns and enjoy the peacefulness.
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  • Day858

    Toledo - Town, Cathedral & Synagogue

    October 11, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Built overlooking the Rio Tajo, with commanding, panoramic views, the beautiful walled-city of Toledo, south-west of Madrid, exceeded our expectations in every respect and was easily explored from our campsite 'El Greco' taking the bus in and walking back.

    A blend of Christian, Muslim and Jewish architecture and culture, with a pre-Roman history, Royal connections and El Greco art, there was so much to see and do. We started with the medieval Gothic Cathedral, which ranks among the top 10 in Spain.

    From the days of Visigothic occupation (between the Romans & Muslims), the current site of the cathedral has been a centre of worship. Even today, the Visigothic influence continues with a 6th-century liturgy that is performed daily. During Muslim rule it contained the central mosque and was then converted into a church in 1085 when the Vatican recognised Toledo as a seat of the Spanish church and still does.

    Our excellent audio-guide escorted us around the huge interior which was a feast for the eyes with rose windows, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and pointed arches. The glittering alterpiece of painted wooden sculptures depicts the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Opposite is the choir stall, intricately carved wooden stalls from the 15th century. The Chapter House was crowned with a 500-year old wooden Mudéjar ceiling and portraits of all the archbishops of Toledo. The Sacristry contained a gallery of paintings by the likes of Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael but it is the El Greco painting 'The Disrobing of Christ' that takes centre stage, painted specifically for that spot. We have visited quite a few cathedrals and basilicas recently, but this one stole the show for us.

    That was enough culture for one day and so we wandered around the busy cobbled streets taking it all in as we made our way to the San Martin bridge where we watched people zip-line the short distance across the river. What would the rulers of old think of that!

    Our next foray into town was to visit the El Transito synagogue, built in 1355 by special permission from Pedro I. Whilst it was interesting, the whole size and presentation paled against our Cathedral visit, and so we left a little disappointed and wandered around the old Jewish quarter, home once to 10 synagogues. After the expulsion of Jews in 1492, under the Royal orders of Isabel and Fernando, the country lost a whole section of society that had provided merchants, accounts, scientists and thinkers which would take a long time to replace.

    After a pitstop for 'bocadillos iberico' (Iberian cured ham rolls) washed down with a beer and glass of wine, we headed back across the river to the campsite.
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  • Day857

    Toledo - Alcázar, military museum

    October 10, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Before we went to the military museum, I mentioned to Chris that I wasn't sure I would find it as interesting as he would. How wrong was I. We spent 5 hours there and only saw a third of it!

    Built at the highest point in the city, the museum is composed of two buildings; the Alcázar, a fortress dating from the 10th century of Abd a-Rahman III, which houses the permanent exhibition of which there are three different itineraries to follow, and a brand new building built around an archaeological site housing the temporary exhibitions, auditorium, cafe and library.

    We chose to do the Historical Tour, eight halls over two floors, showcasing the History of the Spanish Army as an integral part of the History of Spain. We also did a little bit of the Thematic Tour by accident when we lost each other!

    We started with the Spanish Monarchy 1492 and went right through to the 20th century. The modern museum has been superbly put together with everything well explained in both Spanish and English with plenty of inter-active additional information. Incorporated into the building are live fragments from the Alcázar history such as the Charles V courtyard, Imperial Chapel and stone spiral staircases.

    We learned that Toledo was home to the Royal Armoury for bladed, sharp weapons of war. Suddenly the penny dropped, now we understood why so many shops were selling replica swords, daggers and other dangerous, sharp objects!

    The History of Spain and its former world glory days was very well explained but in some ways must leave the Spanish visitors disappointed that it isn't the powerhouse it once was.

    The Dukes of Medinaceli collection (that we stumbled on by mistake) was a fantastic display of pristine, shiny armour for both man and horse. How those horses could move with all that weight is unbelievable as they wore plenty of armour themselves. It was interesting that many suits of armour were pierced with holes on the right breast plate. No doubt the right-handed jousters they faced were experts.

    There were plenty of uniforms to admire and it was noticeable just how short and slight most of the bodies that they adorned were.

    By the time an announcement was made advising closing time, we were 'informationed-out' but had thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

    We really look forward to our next visit to Toledo to see more of this wonderful place.
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  • Day853

    Medinaceli - Culture Festival

    October 6, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    We last visited Medinaceli on a cold day two years ago. This time our visit coincided with a Cultural Festival, showcasing some of Spain's most beautiful villages in the region, and the weather was great.

    We wandered around the hilltop town and checked out something we missed last time - a medieval ice fridge, thought to be from around the 8th century, when the Arabs were here. It looked like an enormous igloo made out of rocks and it was here that snow was stored in the winter for use during the warmer season. It was located in the northern part of the town, with metre thick walls for keeping the snow frozen. Amazing.

    In the evening, we attended a concert of pianist and soloist in the beautiful setting of the Palacio Ducal, a 17th century palace with a two-storey Renaissance courtyard and glass roof which was very romantic when the lights were turned off and we looked up to see the stars while listening to the music.

    The next day, the sleepy town jumped to life as coaches from the participating villages turned up for the festival. The arches of the Playa Major became the venue for the village stalls showcasing the best of their destination. We tasted lots of sweet biscuits, wine, cheese, cured meat (which we bought) , stuffed aubergine and a plate of sausage & eggs. A stone mason demonstrated his art and encouraged anyone to have a go. We didn't.

    Music and dance was happening throughout the day. First up was an excellent band of musicians both young and old who played traditional songs through to an Abba and then Santana medley. Next, we were back over to the Palacio Ducal to hear some opera and watch flamenco dancing. There followed the traditional Spanish 2 hour lunch-break and then we were treated to some music and dancing with dancers in traditional costumes.

    Back in the motorhome at the end of a great stay here, we are now trying to work out how we are going to visit all the places we have learned about today, all of which look so inviting.
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  • Day848

    Zaragoza - Caesaraugustus

    October 1, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We have driven past Zaragoza, Spain's 5th largest city, a couple of times having been unable to find a decent place to stay. But a great municipal aire with a tram stop next to it gave us the opportunity to finally see the city.

    The Romans founded Caesaraugustus (from which Zaragoza is derived) in 14 BC and, during the 1 & 2 centuries AD, large public works were undertaken to create a city of splendour that reigned as one the Iberia's most important commercial centres. Then the Visigoths arrived and sacked the place in 472 AD.

    As medieval Zaragoza developed, Caesaraugustus lay buried and forgotten for 1500 years. Incredibly, it was only in the 1990's while excavating building works were taking place that the hidden treasures below the ground were revealed. We have visited numerous Roman theatres in our travels and, though this one was not as in tact as others, the way in which it was displayed, explained and re-created was by far the best and we learnt so much. Did you know that the Romans used concrete and boards to create walls which were then finished with alabaster, marble or smooth stone?

    The Basilica de Nuestra Senõra del Pilar is one of the best we have ever visited. Located on the huge Plaza del Pilar, the exterior is a feast for the eyes but the spacious, baroque interior, with inner dome, complete with frescoes by Goya, is something else. Many pilgrims visit the Basilica as the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared here atop a marble pillar (pilar).

    The famous painter Francisco de Goya was born nearby and we found out all about him and his art with a visit to the Museo Goya, recently refurbished and well laid out over three floors.

    The free aire only allowed us to stay for 3 days so it was time to go but we could easily have stayed longer. Now we know where to stay, we shall definitely be returning to see the other magnificent sights we didn't have time for on this trip.
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  • Day846

    Summer is over, it's official

    September 29, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    To mark the official end of summer in Catalonia (last weekend of September), towns and villages host a festival which involves 5m-high giants that are paraded through the streets. Here in Taradell, several villages joined together and provided us with a fun parade. The giants tend to come in male & female pairs, such as a medieval King and Queen, accompanied by grotesque dwarfs and traditional music.

    Catalonia may think that summer is over but we do not believe it yet.
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  • Day844

    Girona

    September 27, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Northern Catalonia's largest city was known as Gerunda in Roman times. It was then taken from the Muslims by the Franks in the late 8th century, and became the capital of one of Catalonia's most important counties, falling under the power of Barcelona in the late 9th century. All this history has resulted in a historic centre with many Gothic and Romanesque buildings. We visited with friends, Hans and Mireille.

    Built over an old Roman forum, parts of the cathedral date back to the 5th century. What we see today is mostly Gothic, having been built over the Romanesque church during the 14th century, with a baroque facade. The Gothic nave (where the congregation sit) is the widest in the world, which gives a huge sense of open space. With 86 steps leading to the entrance, it towers over the historic centre. An audio guide helped us navigate around and explained the details that can go overlooked. One room was full of richly embroidered and bejeweled ceremonial robes and in the Treasury was a large tapestry from the 10th century depicting God's creation of life.

    The walkable medieval walls encompass the centre and give great views over both the modern and ancient parts of the city which is a delight to visit. You do feel as though you have taken a step back in time as you wander through the maze of narrow streets. Each building has a shop at ground level, ranging from a small supermarket or bakery to upscale designer jewellery, with 3 or 4 floors above, all painted in soft colours.

    Easily visited from Barcelona, Girona would be a great place to visit for a few days.
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