Roundtrip by campervan Spain & Portugal 2013

Barcelona
Here we are in Barcelona on a very warm Friday afternoon at 20.00 after a 14.00 lunch with Antonio’s family We were invited out to lunch with his family outside Barcelona near the SEAT factory quite close to the mountains Monserat. We were picked up by Esa and met up with the rest of the family in a shopping centre before going onto the restaurant in a small village. The whole family was there and lunch started about 3.00 and I think we left at about 6.30pm. A very lovely afternoon among some lovely people. The food was absolutely delicious and a great time was had by all .

I arrived at the airport in Barcelona at 13.30 and had to wait for Kerry & Joy who arrived at 16.15. After they came out we took a taxi to the apartment for just €28, Dropped right outside the door. Our bags were taken upstairs and we were shown our apartment. What a surprise!!! A big 2 bedroomed flat with a fully fitted kitchen 2 bathrooms, big lounge and although interior it has a very pleasant view over the outside patios of other apartments around and some have some very lovely roof gardens. It has A/C which is very welcome as it is still quite warm. We are just a stones throw from the Sagrado de Familia Cathedral and not too far from the Ramblas. That night we ate in a very pleasant Italian just around the corner. We did have a bit of a problem finding a shop to buy something for breakfast. I didn’t sleep too well that night as the neighbors upstairs were running around above as the building also has long term tenants as well.

After a leisurely breakfast we set off for the downtown to visit Las Ramblas and on the way came across one of Gaudi’s buildings, La Casa Batllo. As the queue was short we decided to go in and what a place. You just have to marvel at the woodwork, let alone the architecture and beautiful tiling. Built around 1904 or so it really is amazing and with the help of the free guide phones you get a very good insight to the house. I suppose we were there for about 2 & 1/2 hours then we took the hop on hop off bus from ride around which was good. We got off halfway around and went to visit the Gaudi park, Parque Guell. That was again an amazing place full of his very unusual architecture and it was originally built in 1906 or so as a very up market housing estate, but it didn’t catch on then. The views of the city from there were quite spectacular.  We didn’t go through his house there but should have. Next time. 

So it was back down the hill on the rest of the bus tour and back to the apartment to have dinner before going out to a Spanish guitar concert by Sergi Vicente, quite a well known guitarist. He was also accompanied by anther guitarist for some numbers, the there were two flamenco dancers as well, both separately and together. The first part was outside and a roof patio and the second part inside the main salon, both parts very good and varied, the flamenco dancers really good. We walked back and hit the hay at about 12.45pm

Friday took us to the Gothic part of Barcelona and I was really surprised just how small it is. Just a few blocks. Of course the most imposing building is the Barcelona Cathedral, built around 1250 and full of alters to just about every saint there was in the Bible. I did find my Saint’s alter there, but had to ask where it was as there were so many. We had a walk around the other parts and then took the metro. We had to be back at the apartment at 1.00 to go out for lunch with Antonio’s family.

Saturday I had a booking at 10.00 for the Sagrada Familia. Having the booking meant we just walked in at that time and avoided the long queues. I won’t begin to describe it here as words won’t do it justice. I saw it from the outside only in 1993 and at that time it was just a shell and no roof. Now it is absolutely spectacular and we spent about 3 hours there going around inside with an audio guide and then down to the basement where there is a museum on the building and history of the place. Well worth the visit. From there by metro to the Palau de la Musica, an auditorium built by a group of business men who were interested in music and the arts. Designed by a compatriot of Gaudi and built around 1904, it follows some similar lines and style. Nature used in the design of the auditorium and lots of glass for natural light. The main music hall is enormous seating something like 2,000 or so and there is a massive glass chandelier type glass ceiling light in the centre with thousands of pieces of cut glass. 

From there we walked down the Ramblas to the bottom, and made our way around to the funicular train to take us up Monjuic. By now it was quite hot and we took the cable cars to the top and wandered around the fort there and got some great views of Barcelona.


Madrid
 – Sunday saw us up bright and early to catch the AVE to Madrid. It left at 9 and after checking out of the flat and having a taxi waiting we made our way to the station. We had about half an hour to wait and the departure came up on the board and we found our carriage and finally our seats. They were in a small compartment right at the back of the train,  almost a VIP section. The trip was great, fast and very smooth, arriving spot on 11.45. We set about looking for the pick up point to get the campervan, but no one was there. After an exhaustive search we finally made contact and found the agent had been waiting in a different place to the one I was to be at. We followed her out of the station and down quite a long street to the van. Not what we had booked and although new, a bit smaller. Rather than go through the palaver of demanding something similar or better than what we got we decided to set off and at least give it a go on a promise of the other being delivered on completion of its repair.

Tuesday 3th Sept.
I’ve been off line for a few days as this trip is quite hard work. I don’t think I have done something so difficult like this for quite a while.  I have a bit of the camping blues. I have leaky lilo, a grumpy GPS ( it sends you off at tangents or says ‘turn round when you can’ when you are on the right road) AND I don’t bend like Beckham any more getting into my tent.

We got the low down on the van and loaded up. We all had come with quite big suitcases as the van we had book had an enormous boot and we thought no problem. Not the case. this one has a pint sized boot so it was suitcases all over the floor and us stepping over them to get anything. We were told the one we had booked had had the clutch burnt out trying to get out if the sand by the previous people so we had been given an alternative, but they didn’t reckon us being 6’3 ” It has a dropdown double bed in the middle of the cabin and the other person is supposed to sleep underneath, almost impossible. The only positive part is the galley which is quite big. May be we can get the other one when it is repaired.

We set off, now at about 3.00pm as we lost a lot of time looking for the agent and then there was the hand over and showing of how everything works.  Out comes the GPS and in  to it I put Pamplona and set off. We go up past the Prado Museum from the Atocha station and the GPS sends us left into The Gran Via. Fine. Then suddenly halfway along it sends us off to the right and through some very narrow and dodgy back streets, some just the width of the van and left us with no further instructions. The neighbours didn’t look to friendly. I made my way out as best as I could took my bearings then got a taxi to take us out as it was much surer way than the GPS.


Burgos
 – Once on the road we made good time and headed for Burgos than across the Camino de Santiago road to Logroño and on to Pamplona. By now it was getting late so we plumbed for a campsite at Navarette just outside Logroño. It took some time to find as the signs to it left you in mid air with now where to go. Still it was a nice campsite.

Pamplona
We left next morning Monday, for Pamplona, found a park on the street and went to see where they do the Running of the Bulls. This part of the city is old and very quaint. We walked the whole way from where they start to where they go into the bull ring, quite some distance when you consider the amount of people running, the bulls, and the spectators. The bull ring held 20,000 people. Still it was as I had imagined as I remember reading about it in one of Hemmingway’s books and his description was so vivid that it was as if I had been before. We had some tapas, cider and then walked the city walls back to the van for lunch. Departing from the kerb after lunch I blotted my copy book by swiping the tail end of the van on a street bollard. The van has a short wheel base and can turn on a sixpence but it has a massive overhang and hadn’t calculated for that. A slight bit of damage and not doubt charged for.

We had decided to stay there in Pamplona and again trying to find the campsite a problem. finally we asked a service station and he said he has been asked so many times he knows the directions by heart. A piece of paper with some drawings and off we went completely different to the directions in the book and that of the GPS. It was quite a good campsite. All the time we had been having brilliant sunny days and temps of around 30º.


San Sebastian
 – The next day Tuesday, we made it as far as San Sebastian. The city looked beautiful in the sunshine and the beach was packed. the temp now was around 35º. We had lunch, made some photo stops and then headed off to the campsite at Egeldo. This really was a beautiful campsite and really the best so far. Parked and tent pitched we took the bus into town, walked some of the Conche and then took a bus to the far end of the beach to take the funicular up the hill to the top. The view was breath taking and on such a sunny day even better. The top was given over to a children’s funfair quite small but the rides good enough to keep a small child amused. We took the funicular down and a bus back to the camp and had a rather expensive Menu of the Day dinner at the campsite, €15 each for chicken and chips with a dessert. Still it was late and easier than doing something in the camper. I blotted my copybook again going up to the camp for the first time. It was quite a narrow two way road and i moved a little to the right to let a bigger vehicle past and suddenly whack!!!! The side mirror glasses were hanging down, but not broken and the whole thing slap up against the vehicle. It looked bad. Kerry went back to look for the pieces and came back with a whole mirror. I thought of the worst. Back in the campsite we taped the mirrors back into place and then thought of getting it repaired. As it so happened on the way to Santander I saw an IVECO garage and after a quick look he just popped them all back in place, for €20- A relief!!


 

1623659_10151966955999527_1959644035_nSantillana del Mar / Guggenheim / Cornillas
 – We left next morning to go to Bilboa and on to Santillana del Mar. We didn’t get that far. We stopped off in Bilboa and saw the amazing modern Guggenheim Museum in all its glory in brilliant sunshine. We came in on the East road, saw the sign to the museum, then without warning we came around a curve then a roundabout and down over the new bridge with the museum right there on our right. A perfect view. We parked up in a residents parking area (a quick look over your shoulder to see if there was a parking warden) and walked a few 100 meters to the museum. It is really is an amazing structure and the covering does look like fish scales. Up the top outside the entrance was a huge dog made of flowers. He is called ‘puppy? and is the guardian of the museum. The structure was about 2 stories tall and flowers sprouting out everywhere. 

We had a coffee and then moved on to our camping for the evening at Santillana Del Mar. This  is a very old village, with the church dating back to the 12th Century. We camped close by the village and as we were setting up camp in the sunshine, we could see clouds brewing. About and hour later a thunderstorm was upon us with lightening and buckets of rain. Nothing to do but sit and wait for it to go. That wasn’t happening so we battened down the hatches and spent the night in the camper. 

Next day Thursday was better, misty rain and overcast so after lunch we drove to Comillas to see the town. It has a Gaudi folly, a house he designed in his style for a very rich tobacco merchant who had just come back from Cuba with loads of money. As usual with Gaudi, it was very interesting. By now it was starting to rain heavier so we walked up to the palace and looked across to the other buildings of interest and headed back to the van. Another wet night.


 Tuesday Sept 10th.  A bit of wasted day as we are waiting for the replacement van to arrive here in Salamanca at 1.30. Too late to go into the city before it arrives as the buses only run on the hour from the campsite.. Anyway I send this one off now.

All the best,

Harvey

Letter 2

Hi.
Next morning was overcast and cloudy but it wasn’t raining. After breakfast we drove down to the village of Santillana del Mar and parked the van in the car park. We walked through the old alleyway, across the main road, and into the village proper. By now it was starting to fill up with people and getting a map from the tourist office we made our way round the village. This village dates back to the 12th century or thereabouts when the church was built and most of the other buildings are original dating from the 14th & 15th century. We walked round through the square and went into an old building made into a museum. It was about three stories high and the interior is mostly made of wood. Huge poles going from floor to ceiling held at the roof with the floors  interspersed in between.  Inside was a display of artifacts of how people lived in that time. We moved on and went into a museum of torture. It was pretty horrific with pretty graphic displays of how each one was administered. You just wonder how people could have such bent minds to make up such apparatus and then use it getting pleasure from the poor victims outcomes. At the end of the village was the 12th century church but we were unable to go in as there was a wedding in progress. We did however get a look at the cloisters. We had lunch before going back to the van and then set off for Potes.

Picos de Europa (Potes/Fuente) – Potes is in the middle of the Picos de Europa and we had no trouble finding the turnoff to it. We were told just down the road there would be a big sign and sure enough this time there was!! The road into Potes is quite narrow and not unlike going into the Milford Sound but only on a smaller scale. We wound up into the mountains following a river most of the way with the mountains towering overhead. The scenery was spectacular. Every now and again the sun would come out and had looked to be improving. We arrived up there at about five and had a walk through the village. Built on the River it has narrow, winding backstreets and a lovely main street. Of the many campsites there we chose the one recommended in the book and as it sent it had a spectacular view of the valley. That was very true. It was quite a small campsite but the facilities were excellent. That night it was quite cool in the tent.
After breakfast we set off further up the valley to Fuente De. Fuente De has a cable car that goes to the top of the mountains and according to official data it is either the second or third longest cable car route in the world without supporting posts. It is certainly a massive sweep up the mountains. It rises 750 metres to a height of 1,850 metres. The cable that the cars travel on is 1,640 metres long. Going up on the road we kept our eye on the sky as every now and again the sun would come through. When we reached there it was still quite overcast but decided to take a trip to the top. Not being the best of days there was absolutely no queue at all and in minutes we were winging our way up to the top. There was still mist about but we could see it was breaking up. There is not that much to see at the top except the spectacular views down the valley.We walked further up to where people set off on their treks across the mountains . By now the clouds were lifting and we got some views.  On our trip down the cable car it lifted completely for a while and we had a spectacular ride down. Back in the van we had lunch and set off for somewhere near Gijon.

Bonham12Gijon / Villaviciosa / Lastres / Salamanca – We wound our way down and went round to a place called Las Arenas where there is a funicular railway up to Bulnes. This village has had no road access at all and only six or seven years ago they put in this rail way. We arrived and found it quite expensive, 20 odd euros for a return trip up and all underground, not out in the open as I had thought. We gave it a miss and headed on towards Gijon. We follow the road down towards the coast and passed through Villaviciosa. There was a festival in progress and I think they were celebrating the cider harvest. This is a big cider growing area and we passed one of the most famous cider producers bottling plant, La Gaitero. The fiesta was in full swing and we had to wait for the procession to proceed before we could make our way to Lastres on the coast. We had a ringside seat from the van.
Lastres is a lovely fishing village clinging to the side of the hill with the narrow streets winding their way down to the fishing harbour. After a brief stop in the fishing port we made our way to the campsite around the coast at San Telmo. Quite a nice campsite but this one took all measures to avoid you departing without paying. One, he had your passport, two, your electrical cable was locked in the box, three, there was a bar at the gate. However the facilities were clean and functional.
Next morning we walked out to the beach via a very expensive promenade and then drove back to the town to get a view from the top. Quite spectacular as today was sunny and then we set off for Salamanca to change the camper van. The journey down was very uneventful and we travelled the 400 odd kilometers over the vast flat plains of Spain. We arrived at Salamanca in the late afternoon and found our campsite relatively easily. It is a big campsite open all year around and with all the facilities.

Letter 3: A Coruña and surroundings

Hi there,
A Coruña and what a place!!! We go the van at 4.00 on Tuesday and after the change over and checking all the bits and pieces he drove off and left us with a six berth camper, sleeping space to spare, a huge boot you could sleep in and this time a brand new coffee machine!
Still it looked a lot better but the test would be the drive to a Coruña the next day. As the heat of the day was abating we took the local bus into the city centre at Salamanca to see what we might have missed the day before.
The town was buzzing again as the afternoon paseo was in full swing and they still had the gerengitos (street bars) and they were full. We walked down the the streets in the off part from the Plaza mayor to the church, going through the library on the way. These buildings are all around the 15th and 16th Century and the library had a beautiful inner courtyard with the massive frontice piece of the church in the background. We walked on past anther huge church and out to the river, then back up to catch the bus.

Next day, Wednesday, we left for A Coruña at 10.00 and the test of the camper. Was it going to have as many rattles and the last one? After a gentle take off, (the clutch much smoother) hey Presto!!! Not a rattle and a better ride, softer and not so hard. Although older by some years it drove better even though it is a whole lot bigger. The same make FIAT but much more comfortable.
The drive up took a total of 7 hours or so with 2 stops for coffee and a long one doing research. The scenery was very much the same and the fase ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’ came to mind very often. It was the plains all the way except for the last bit when we climbed over some spectacular roadway before dropping down towards A Coruña.

The research was about a story that perhaps the Spanish landed in NZ before Able Tasman and a story goes that there is a sunken Spanish Caravel off the coast o New Zealand at Aranga and we went to see the village there, Aranga, about an hour out of A Coruña. The village was only 3 or 4 houses and a big church, but nothing else as the newspaper article said the main street of this village had a Maori name, Rua Tui. Something like 36 of the 52 crew of the sunken caravel off the Aranga point in NZ were to have come from this village. I don’t think so. Just one street and no name in site. No one knew anything so we took photos and moved on to A Coruña.

I had a campsite sorted or thought so. We saw another on in the book which looked good but didn’t think it would be easy to find. I tried the address of the first one in the GPS and it wouldn’t recognize it so drove into the city to see if camping signs could be seen. Not one. What a maze of streets and everyone in a hurry. I must have gone completely through just about every part of A Coruña. At one part I got diverted up very narrow streets in the suburbs and had to find my way back to the main road. In a bar just before we arrived at the main road I asked some of the customers where a campsite would be and got a long set of sailing directions. We eventually found if and going in realized it was the same one as we had seen in the book first. And thought would be difficult to find. That part was true.
 
The campsite was down a steep hill and in the bottom of a small valley full of trees. It was a class 1º category and very nice too. The site was very pretty and very helpful staff. Next day we set out to find the Pohutukawa trees that were supposed to have been planted somehow by the sailors who returned from the voyage to NZ. The young guy at reception was very interested in what we were looking for and had been in NZ for 6 months, somewhere near Christchurch. He showed us where the police station was as there was evidently a very big tree there. We took the bus into town and walked up the main street in front of the docks, which one side was a park, beautifully kept and with all sorts of trees. Near the end, there in front of us was a Pohutukawa tree and on investigation we found two more planted in the same place. We took photos and headed off to the tourist office only to find it closed till 4.00. We took a taxi to the police station to find the tree and there it was in all its glory, a massive thing taking up most of the patio. The police were very obliging and let us in to see it. As I said it covered mostly of the courtyard and there in one of the branches was a Maori greenstone carving, something that someone had left a few months before. Joy solved the mystery of the street name as on the outside of the police station was the street name ‘Rua Tui’. The street wasn’t in the village Aranga, we visited outside Coruna, but right here outside the police station. Now RUA is the Gallego word for street and TUI is a Spanish town right down on the border with Portugal. I’ll leave you to work out how true the story rings. The police had told us of a street named after the Latin Name of the trees so walked down to find it and it was full of small trees, some in flower. The city uses the flower as a symbol. We walked around the point, saw the Club Med yacht leave then got a taxi to the bus station and a bus back to the campsite. The day was one out of the box and city looked beautiful.

Santiago de Compostela
Next day we headed off to Santiago de Compòstela and arrived in good time. Realizing that parking would be difficult we headed out of town and found a place up behind Corte Ingles by a very nice bar. We got a taxi into the centre of town and arrived at the church to find all the doors closed. You could hear something going on inside. Someone said go around to the back and you will get inside. We did this and found a short queue, but not moving very fast. Then a few mins later at 1.00 the big doors opened and I pushed up to see what was happening inside. The church was completely full of people and all you could see was a sea of heads, now all making their way out. It had been a mass for the pilgrims who had walked their way to Santiago and it is every day at 12.00. We had missed it as it would have great to see the whole service and the swinging of the big incense urn. However we were able to see the inside which was impressive. We spoke to an Austrian guy who had made the walk and he had been walking for 5 weeks from Irun. We saw walkers everywhere we went in the north of Spain. After we made our way down the narrow streets  of the old part of the city which was interesting and then caught a taxi back to the camper and had lunch at the bar where we had parked. A very traditional Gallego lunch of pork ribs etc. We left and then made our way to O Grove or La Toja. This place is famous for its mussels.

The road was good and there is motorway almost all the way. The day was sunny and we crossed the little bridge to the island of La Toja to see how the rich live. It is a very pretty place and the houses very up market. The hotel there is Iconic along with the golf course. We drove around through O Grove and then headed nout to one of the many campsites there, all with views of the Rias Bajas and the mussel rafts. They looked pretty in the setting sun. The campsite was very good.

Really all of the campsite have been good, but some exceptionally good and one really bad one. At least all of them have been clean.


Portugal – Oporto  – Next day we headed off to Portugal, Oporto to be exact. A very easy drive down and a relatively easy campsite to find on the other side of the River Duero by the beach. Very cheap as it is only €13.50 a night for us all. Hot showers and everything. We caught the bus into town for the late afternoon and saw the railway station with all its blue tiles, really fantastic. Each wall is a scene of the wine growing. We walked around that area for a while then called into a tourist office to find out about tours in the wine valley. As yesterday was Sunday we had decided to go up the river to see the vineyards at Peso de Regua. We booked a tour on a boat going up and back leaving at 12.00 from the town Peso de Regua. We decided to drive up rather than go by train.
 
The drive up the motorway was spectacular as there were massive viaducts, broad sweeps of road climbing the hills till Amarete, then we took the small secondary road to Regua. A very narrow winding one but beautiful. We arrived with 45 mins to spare so waited for our boat. It was full of excursion boats taking people up and down the River Duero. There were several authentic wine boats there doing trips and I hoped we would get one of those. We found out guide and then soon saw the boat come down the river into view. I don’t think i have ever seen such an ugly boat but once on and set sail you didn’t see the outside. Up the river past the rail, road and motorway bridges and on to the lock on the river. Portugal has 6 locks on the river Dureo and we went through one of them. Quite an experience as you go up about 40 to 50 meters very slowly and then sail out into the upper part of the Duero. The whole way was lined with vineyards and the vally was a sight to see. Some of the places had the old estate houses and buildings while others were just vineyards. The day was bright and sunny and the valley looked its best. We arrived at Pinhao at 2.45 and left at 3.15 so didn’t have time to get to the railway station to see the display of tiles there. The trip back was just as beautiful. We drove back to Oporto that evening getting back around 9.15 after a bit of a struggle to get back to the campsite through the maze of city motorways. There are 3 or 4 that cross the city and the one we needed was closest to the sea.

It is now Wednesday 18th and I have got a bit behind. one of the reasons is that my telefonica pendrive is useless and takes ages to connect and the other is that so much is happening that to find time to get it onto paper is difficult. We are here in Lisbon at the moment. I’m going to send this one now and fill you in about the day in Oporto and Lisbon in the next one.

All the best,

Harvey

Letter 4: Granada / Tarifa

1604883_10151982314824527_509089260_nHi there,
Here in Granada after an eventful afternoon. We arrived nice an early, did the shopping and cocked up getting back on to the street to get to the campsite here in Granada, instead shot back onto the motorway and had to do several junctions to find a one where you could turn around and then back on to pick up the correct exit, did some u turns in the street and finally checked in at about 8.00. A glass of wine to a ‘successful’ arrival and on to cook tea only to find that the gas had run out. Out to change the gas bottles but they are different to the ones in Las Palmas and the connection wouldn’t stay put. Something easy you would say but after an hour we had to get the gardener to help us and then cook the dinner. What was going to be a nice early evening with time to spare turned into a rather late one again.

Lisbon – Lisbon turned out to be a city of quaint streets and a place that looked like it had stood still in the place of time. The old part down town was full of interest. We drove down from Oporto and as there are 2 motorways we got (what do you expect!!!) the wrong one to what we wanted and was quite a way inland. We came out to the coast at a place called Peniche, to what turned out to be the Tarfia of Portugal. Not much to see but a lot of wind, sand, sea and WINDSURFERS. There had been a fort there at sometime but nothing much else. We drove on down to Lisbon and eventually found the municipal campsite quite near the city, a very upmarket one with concrete pitches and acres of space between each camper. Good showers and a very pretty place. The entrance to Lisbon was fairly easy and well sign posted.

Biaxa – Next day we headed of into town on the local bus to the city centre at Biaxa. This is the heart of the old city. We decided to take a hop on hop off bus for the first, but really it was a waste of money as it took you out through the new section and there wasn’t that much to see. However the ticket gave a cheaper ride on the city red tram, the tourist one that gave you a look at the real old part. It travelled most of the route of tram no. 28 (the famous tram that goes right through the old area) but with a few different extras. The journey was through the streets, not much wider than the tram itself, up hills and then down again and around sharp corners and all the time something interesting to see. The trams themselves are short wheel based one as they have to be to get around some of the sharp corners. The views of the city from some of the lookout points were stunning. The day was hot and sunny and not a cloud in the sky. We stopped of near the end of the trip and went in to the Basilica Estrela to see. No really that spectacular inside but what a view of the city from the roof. We looked out from the 4 corners at eh city in the setting sun. Back down to the centre again and now it was getting close to 7.00. We had seen the street lift built in 1902 by a disciple of Eifel and decided to take a trip up it to see the view at sunset. Beautiful, just as it was a little earlier at the square down by the river Tago. From there we had a splendid view of the river and the massive suspension bridge. The lift takes you up to a very pretty square at the top and at that time it was getting ready for the evening of Fado music and  looked really interesting. But I couldn’t wait as K&J were waiting at the bottom of the lift for me.

Sintra – Seville – Before leaving for Seville we took a trip up to Sintra, a place I have always wanted to visit and it did not disappoint me. Sintra is high up in the hills behind Lisbon and the place where the royalty and nobility lived  in the 1700 and 1800. We parked and walked in. The view of the place from where we parked was of a heavily forested mountainside, like that of Baveria, with castles and stately homes dotted in amongst the trees making it look like fairy land. To add to the mystic it was quite misty when we arrived and it made it look all the more majestic. We had time just to visit one of the castles, The National Palace of Sintra, the main summer residence and hunting lodge of the Portuguese Royalty. An extremely interesting castle and a very novel kitchen as it had two huge round cones standing out of the roof line like Moroccan tangines and these were the ‘chimneys’ for the kitchen, taking out both the smoke and smells as the cooking area was rows of benches with places for the embers to be put for cooking and the pots placed on top just as on a conventional stove.

We left there around 1.30 (I wanted to see more but there was no time) and Seville was our destination. The drive uneventful, the first section on motorway, €27.90 worth of it and then on to A roads in Spain.
All the roads were good and driving this van is like a car. It also packs a lot of punch. It has a cruise control (NO I didn’t go down the back and make a sandwich!!! It is not a Winnebago!!) which makes these long journeys easy driving. Set it on 100kph and leave it to go up and down the hills at a constant speed.
 At about 6.30 we were a 100kms from Seville and knew we would be getting there in the dark so opted to stop at a campsite in Monesterio. The village was small and of no real tourist interest, but the campsite was superb. Probably the best shower and toilet block so far on the trip.

Leaving the campsite, Hallelujah !!!! An address and  GPS coordinates of a park for camping vans in Seville from the helpful reception there at the campsite. An easy drive into the city, park up, and visit what there is too see. The idea was shattered in a instant as we left the camping ground. Temperamental Tom Tom or Grunting GPS had other ideas as I switched it on and typed in the address the GPS did a flicker and died!!!!! Bugger!!!I don’t know if it was the machine or the cigarette lighter socket but it didn’t work. So ride on into the city and find your own way Lone Ranger it said!!!! We stopped at the first gas station in the city as we have found they are the  best source of information when finding campsites etc. where he kindly directed us to another place, probably closer, just along from the port in Seville and we were able to leave the van in the street (safe between two businesses operating on what was rather a deserted street) and walked into town. It was hot.
We walked through the Parque Maria Luisa and on to the Plaza de España, a huge complete of ornamental buildings built in a half circle with water and a fountain in the middle built for the Expo in Seville in 1929. It is an impressive building, now housing some local body offices. That And the park were full of horse drawn carriages and most of them doing quite a brisk business. All through Seville around the cathedral there were horses and carriages.

We did the cathedral in Seville, the biggest after St Peter’s in Rome. It was huge and only thing remaining of the mosque it was built over is the bell tower, the Giralda, which was one of the minarets, square they were.  It was nice and cool in there and the view from the top of the tower was amazing. To go up was rather novel as there weren’t any stairs, but rather ramps, which made the climb much easier. Once outside, we walked around to the Al Cazar and visited that. As always it never ceases to inspire. Amazing to see just how the Arabs lived then and the art they left behind. And as they were being pushed out by the Spanish they literally handed over the keys to the palace and left everything intact. The gardens out the back would put most city parks to shame. 

Now it was 6.30 and still hot so we bagged the rest of the sightseeing (like the barrio of Santa Cruz) and headed for the camper. I still haven’t had a good look around that area so it will be next time. Right opposite was a supermarket so we shopped and made our way out to the campsite, quite a way out of the city, but very easy to find. A very nice place in amongst the trees and shrubs..

I’ll send this one off and add another email tomorrow.

All the best,

Harvey


Letter 4 – Cordoba / Jerez
Sitting in the Municipal campsite in Cordoba. Not an easy entry with a useless set of instructions in the camping book. Instructions were to go to the centre of town, past the mezquita and church, and where the main road forks, take the right one and look for the signs to ‘Brillante’. The road forked, really ‘forked up’, and sent us into the old part of Cordoba where the streets were so narrow and some where it was touch and go to get through. Very pretty but not from a camper van when you just don’t want to be there. We must have circled Cordoba and just as we were giving up having already been to a service station, we asked two kids in a local bus stop who drew us a map and showed us where it was and we were there is no time at all. I have no idea where we are now in the campsite as I lost all sense of direction on the way.

Seville to Jerez was an easy drive and we had hoped to see the Spanish Riding School in Jerez. We asked for info at the Tourist office in Seville and found out that they practiced Mon. Wed. Fri. and performed on Tue and Thur at around 10.00.  We were driving down there on Saturday so there was nothing to see or so we thought.  Jerez wasn’t such an exciting city and we parked on the outskirts and walked into the centre to find the tourist office. It was quite a walk and the signs seemed to say it was just around the corner. We walked down quite a few tree lined streets and walking precincts and eventually found it, only to find out that there had been a display of carriages and horses somewhere but we had missed it as it was on at 11.00. We arrived at 1.00!!! Antonio told me that the Feria de Jerez is on all the month of Sept and we should have been able to see something of interest, but neither tourist office told us anything about it.

Jerez was a bit of a waste of time as all we got to see was the church in the centre, but we did get to a tavern where they have flamenco singing going on at 2.00pm so we took a look in. It was packed, a hot day, but full of atmosphere. The singer, female, was good and stayed for two or three numbers, then move across the street to have lunch, a selection of montaditos (small filled bread rolls) and ‘tinto de verano’. (Red wine and Casera not unlike 7Up) We took a taxi back to the van and moved on, not stopping in Arcos de Frontera (but should have as it is an old town full of interest) as I wanted to get to the White Villages of Andalusia.

White villages – From Arcos we took the small country road through mountains to Grazalema. Such a beautiful route and towards the end it started to climb up the hills. We got caught at Benamahoma with a car rally and had to wait 2 hours or more in the village. Benamahoma is from the Arab name meaning sons of Mohamad. The village was very pretty perch on the hillside and we decided to take a look at and take the van up. It got narrower and narrower and with the road being cut off traffic was also streaming in from the other end, SO after some anxious minutes of getting past traffic, fitting in narrow alleys etc, we found a small place where we could park somewhat off the street and waited. Joy and I walked the whole village and at about 7.30pm we were given the all clear and after all the cars all left we took off for Grazalema.

Grazalema
We climbed up out of the village over a zigzag road and could look straight down on it. Further on we crossed the pass in the mountains to find it is the wettest place in the whole of Spain. The views were fantastic and we wound our way down to Grazalema. Grazalama is one of the white villages and we had a quick few minutes there. By now it was quite late and set off for Ronda to camp.

benamahoma bonham16Setenil
 – Next day we set off for the trip around the while villages starting with Setenil. There was another village first but after a few wrong turnings and local guidance we hit the spot. Sentinel is originally an Arab village, with tower, and then taken over by the Christians. It is built in a ravine and two streets are actually built under the overhang of the cliff, others semi caves with the usual front piece.  The whole place is amazing as the centre of the village is on a perpendicular street and the other streets around it not much better. We lunched at the top with a view of the village below.

Olvera
After lunch we then drove on to Olvera. You could see the village coming about 10 kms away as it has a massive church on the top of the hill and an Arab fort on the pinnacle of rock, all adding to the beauty. This is probably the biggest of all the white villages and one of the prettiest. We parked as close as we dared to get to the old part of town (didn’t want to get stuck on any narrow streets) and walked up, quite a few streets. At the top we took in the views and then bought tickets to climb the fort. A steep climb up to the top but worth it for the views, Miles and miles of olive groves. The town takes its name from the olives and through the years the ‘i’ got left out. We did the museum which was very informative. The village and its main street near the church were beautiful and the walk back equally pleasing as the assent.

Algodonales / Zahara de la Sierra
We took the faster road to Algodonales and drove through the village but did not stop as time was getting on and I wanted to see Zahara and get back before dark. Zahara was beautiful but it was a steep climb up to the main square. Joy and Kerry stay down while I pounded my way up and got some nice shots. This village also has an Arab castle on the top of the hill, but there wasn’t time to explore. It was then back to Ronda.


Ronda – The next day we took a taxi into Ronda to see the centre before we headed off to Granada. He dropped us right outside the bull ring, the oldest in Spain, built in 1785 or something. I’ve seen it before but it was still impressive to see, especially the museum attach. It was full of old military uniforms, horse harness and muskets, rifles and duelling pistols, one of the best collections I’ve seen. Ronda is built on a cliff with a ravine between and a very old narrow bridge spanning the gap. We walked around the cliff and there were several artist playing guitars. One was getting ready to play and he had his CDs on display and I took one to look at. There on the top right hand corner were the words ‘Recorded at Whangarei, NZ’. I had to buy one. He was Swiss, playing Spanish music and touring the world and he said he had several CDs recorded in the studio there in NZ. A small world.


Marbella / Granada
 – We set off for Granada at about 12.30 and got the wrong road out of the campsite. An hour down the road we knew something was wrong and turned around. I had asked at the campsite and was told to turn left outside then gate. WRONG. That rectified, we headed down toward Marbella and what a beautiful trip. You are descending all the way through pine clad mountains with spectacular views sometimes to the sea. As you get nearer Marbella you start seeing huge mansions clinging to the mountain side, just like those of the north of Italy. Some fantastic and you wondered where the money came from. As you got close down to the coast they were still very big but now much closer together and not the same privacy. And right down, although expensive I would say quite compact almost one on top of the other. On to Granada from Malaga there was a very long climb up to the plateau and on to Granada.

We made Granada in good time but didn’t take the coast road to Nerja as it would have made us late and also finding your way around Malaga probably wasn’t easy. After a bad attempt at finding the right way to the campsite we got there to find it right in the city. Very convenient for next day to catch the bus into the town., Next morning we set out at 11.00 with no rush as we had tickets to go in to the Alhambra place at 19.00. That is to see the patio of the lions etc. First we got off the bus at the cathedral and wandered around the back streets there, visiting the cathedral first. The cathedral was quite spectacular but the best part was the old souk nearby which is just like a Moroccan bazaar. The narrow alleyways and the shops full of colour made it quite a sight. We lunched and then got the bus to the Alhambra and started to walk through the gardens. We started with the General Life, a beautiful garden complex with water fountains and flowers and pavilions where the Sultans would have rested. Next around to the Carlos V castle he built there which is completely out of character with the other buildings but ‘hay’ he was king and could do it. Starting at 2.30 when we arrived we just had 30 mins to spare before it was our turn at 19.00 to go into the palace to see that part and the Patio of the Lions. I had seen this before in the 80’s but to see it again was just as impressive as the first time. I thought there would be lots of people milling about but it was very orderly. I had booked the tickets 2 months in advance and was only able to get the 19.00  as the other times had gone, but is was perfect as we were the last day ones and the light was perfect for some stunning shots of the Patio of the Lions.

Before setting out from the campsite that morning we had booked a flamenco show up in the caves at Sacramento. That was a 9.30pm and we were to be collected at 9.00, not from the campsite but the hotel by the entrance to the Alhambra. The reception had our details and we sat and had a coffee while we waited for 20 mins for the bus to arrive. It took us in a very roundabout way down to the old part of town where we left it and started to walk the narrow lanes up around the caves to our show. On the way we were given the history of the area and flamenco. Flamenco started with the Jews, Arabs and Gypsies in the poor areas and first it was just a hand clapping singing. Later the guitar was added and the dancing as well. The area there was settled by Arabs Jews and Gypsies who had not converted to Christianity as it was outside the city limits in those days and the Arabs and Jews stayed until it became too difficult if they had not converted, and then left or were expelled. I know that Spain lost a lot of its brains from the universities at that time as the intelligent ones were the Jews. 

We arrived at the cave and there must have been about 150 waiting outside. It was a bit of a ‘have’ as we had paid €30 each. Still we soon went in after another group had come out to the last show for the night. I suppose it was around 10.00pm. Inside we sat like in a theatre in rows but we did get a drink. The show started and it was good even if it was very touristy. It went on with a stop and we got out at midnight!! The bus driver was in a hurry to get down the hill from the caves and it was like a dangerous rollercoaster ride as he swung his way around the corners and through the narrow streets. We got to bed at 1.00am.


Cordoba
 – Next day was to Cordoba, an easy drive, but the campsite difficult to find. The directions in the book were useless and at one point sent me down into the old part of town. However we managed to get there and find our site. On the drive from Granada to Cordoba, about 250 kms, we saw nothing but olive trees, thousands of them as far as the eye could see. Certainly it was the olive growing region.

We had gotten up early as at Granada it was getting quite warm during the day and an early morning star meant we would be in the cool for most of the day.  We caught a bus from the campsite in Cordoba to the centre El Corte Ingles, and walked down through the walking prescient to the old part of town. The first stop was the mosque, converted to a church. After the Spanish conquered the Arabs they left and left everything intact. The Cristian King and Queen, Ferdinand & Isabella decreed that all citizens must eat pork and become Christian. Also they tore down most of the mosques except Cordoba where they put and Alter in the middle of it. It is completely out of character with the rest of the building but there it has been done. The parts of the mosque that have been left untouched are fascinating as the further away you get from the alter the more mystic it becomes. At times it looks as though you are in a forest of trees. Truely amazing. Evidently nearly all the columns are different as the  Arabs used the columns from the Roman buildings that were there before. I walked out the entrance to wait and wait I did!! Somehow J&K had gone back to the entrance and after an hour and a phone call I get a text to say where they were. We connected and then went off down to the river to walk across the Roman bridge. A pity they have put a lovely new paved surface on it and not gone back to the original Roman stone.  I suppose after it was closed to traffic only in 2004, it had so many coats of tar as a road bridge that the cost would have been to great to do so. 

We moved onto the Alcazar which was really disappointing after we had seen so many spectacular ones in Granada and Sevilla. We looked at the old Arab baths, but by now it was getting very hot. I did a quick walk up to the Jewish part of the town, saw an old Jewish house from the outside and would have loved to go in but couldn’t as the others were waiting by the baths and ready to go back to the campsite.  We made our way back to catch the bus and once back at the camp it was time for a siesta.

Toledo – Consuegra
The next day we got up early to be on the road to get to Toledo and also see some of Don Quijote country. Near Consuegra we turned off onto what was to be a scenic route, but it was nothing but a bloody rough road.  However we got there and coming into the town you could see 8 to 10 windmills along the ridge. We made our way through the town and found the sight. There was a tourist office in the first windmill but as there was no parking we didn’t stop. We learnt later that it was the only complete one with all it workings intact. After a quick lunch we wander through the windmills and shot many photos. The castle there was being renovated and later we learnt that they had recreated two rooms as they were when the knights lived there. The castle had been used by the Knights of Malta, probably the most famous foundation of knights at that time. Still the setting for the windmills was stunning and many good shots were taken. After we took the A42 to Toledo and found ourselves in a very up market campsite.

Next day up early to see something of Toledo before heading off to Madrid. We took a taxi at 9.00 but the tourist office didn’t open till 10.00. I had a simple map from a magazine and took off to see as much as I could. J&K went shopping  and had a short look around. We had arranged to meet at the campsite. I got to the cathedral and down to the Puerta de Bisagra, the main gate. Both were spectacular. I would have like more time there as the old town looked fascinating. I taxied back to look around the old part and soon time was up. I took a taxi to the campsite, we emptied all the grey water and black water ready to give the van back and set off at 11.55 to Madrid. A very wet trip and very difficult to find your way around the city on the motorways. We had to take the road to Burgos from the south, but you don’t find the signs saying Burgos until you are at least halfway round. At first they say Valencia and straight away you say I don’t want to go there. But eventually Burgos appeared and in the rain with wipers that don’t work very well we make to the camper van office with just 5 mins before they have to close.


The trip was a success and really there is not much i would change if i did it again!!
All the best,
 Harvey Bonham

Harvey, Kerry & Joy
NewZealand
22.1.2014