Cameraderie on the Costas

1 – 10 January 2020

This first post of 2020 is a bit late as we seem to have been constantly on the move since New Year. The repairs needed for our home-on-wheels led to a change of plan; our return to England brought forward by  a couple of months. We had intended to spend January & February exploring the Spanish coast but now we had just over a week before our ferry from Bilbao giving us just enough time for a couple of quick catch-ups with friends on the Costas. 

First we headed along the coast to the Costa del Sol and deliberately drove through Marbella – horrible one-way-system – and Malaga to see what they were about. Then we escaped the traffic by heading inland

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Mountains and olive groves inland from Malaga

We found an overnight spot at Villanueva de Algaidas, a quiet agricultural town in olive country with an interesting line in Xmas decorations – the largest cross-stitch we have ever seen! 

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Homemade Xmas decorations – the pictures are huge cross-stitch embroidery!

The morning brought beautiful mists that lingered in the valleys as we rolled through troglodyte country around Guadix and carried on east towards the Costa Cálida.

Just before Mazarron we parked up outside Phil & Denise’s home and settled in for a good catch up, which it was. They looked after us a treat and we’ll just say that any night that ends up with uninhibited singing and dancing in the kitchen has got to be a good one!

We were all a little delicate over an excellent full English breakfast the next day but while they could relax we had some serious miles to do. Given the state of our batteries we aimed for an Aire with electricity at Calpe but hadn’t factored in that it was the Three Kings weekend and everywhere – including the campsites – were full. So we looked for a wild-camp. Which led us on to some interesting roads, one of which we had to give up on as it just got too bad. 

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An interesting “road” in search of an overnight spot

We did eventually find a nice secluded spot – only to be joined 10 minutes later by an interesting Dutch rig with a young couple and their 2 children who also live on the road. The bit we didn’t envy was the pop-up tent for sleeping in on the roof – a bit too chilly at night for that. 

Next day we joined Peter & Alison on a campsite on the Costa Blanca near Denia and had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days with them. We went into the town for the Three Kings parade which was good fun, the adults as well as the children gathering in as many of the sweets thrown out by each of the Kings’ floats as possible.

We also got in nice a walk in, making the most of the sunshine before the inevitable grey of an English winter.

We left Peter & Alison as they headed out on an energetic bike ride and set off to cover the 500 miles to Bilbao. The drive north through ever-changing countryside through the expanse of Spain was really enjoyable. Spain is so big, an its constituent parts so varied, that it is an endless source of fascination for us. We love it. And we found a couple of lovely, isolated overnight spots where we were able to run the engine when the batteries needed topping up. One of them was near an observatory and gave us a lovely sunset as well as great dark skies for star-gazing.

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Wonderful Wildcamp

Finally we were at the ferry. The sun was shining and it was a lovely day and we were completely baffled to find that our ferry would take 12-hours longer because of bad weather in the Bay of Biscay. Luckily we aren’t superstitious (much) but it still felt odd to be leaving the mainland after 8 months. And yes, the weather was rough and sleep impossible given a cabin in the prow of the ship, But we rolled onto the shore back in the UK just before midnight on Friday 10 January. Next stage – repairs and re-connecting with family & friends.

Our Reflections on 2019

Our danderings this year took us 11,507 road-miles across 12 European countries- UK, France, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal in that order.

On one negative side we have witnessed first hand the effects of global warming in our travels – extended droughts, other extreme weather events causing damage & floods, the late arrival of spring and unusual summer weather, the retreat of glaciers, and from local people everywhere, “it never used to be like this” We have shared the bewilderment and sadness of our European neighbours as the UK slowly and painfully tore itself apart over Brexit – there are times when not getting British TV can be a blessing! And of course there were our ‘van problems – the fridge, the batteries, the blocked plumbing and resultant flooding, and of course our painful encounter with a ‘Stop’ sign in Greece leaving scars that need attention.

We have also missed our family and friends and are still adjusting to the loss of Kate’s mum.

But on the positive side we have loved continuing to exploring new places. Looking back through our photos which Kate is finally getting round to sorting, our highlights included

  • Brittany, which even in March is quite lovely. We loved the St Patricks “Day celebrations, and the standing stones at Carnac are an amazing sight whatever the weather.
  • Getting to spend some quality time at the Normandy invasion sites and finally visit the Bayeux Tapestry.  
  • Spring in Greece. We loved the wildflowers, the walking and exploring the fantastic archaeological sites, particularly Delphi, Mycenae, Mystras & Acrocorinth, and wandering round some excellent museums, but the highlight in Greece has to be the scenery and stopovers as we hugged our way round the coast of the Peleponnese, all senses heightened by the ‘interesting’ road quality and sheer drops. 
  • When we fled the heat of Greece in July we travelled up Italy and met up with friends and family which was absolutely lovely. And our detour to Florence gave us the wonders of the Galileo Galilei Museum and Uffizi gallery as well as some excellent food.
  • We discovered Switzerland. Okay, it’s too expensive for us to rush back, but the scenery lived up to every expectation and, after Greece, the roads were a delight. And we had possibly the best experience of the year, which was walking on the Jungfrau in the snow – once we got away from the crowds. 
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On the Jungfrau
  • In Germany we finally got to visit Hitler’s Eagles Nest, then moved on to discover the Black Forest by foot, bike and ‘van’ before taking a steam-train trip & Rhine cruise. We also learned that there are places in the world with weather as temperamental as in the UK.
  • Three months in Portugal where we had a great 2-weeks with friends, enjoyed the wildness and birdwatching at Sagres with a brilliant bird/dolphin-watching boat trip, celebrated Kate’s birthday in Lisbon, and found that our favourite part of Portugal so far is Alantejo with its white towns and villages and traditional agriculture. 
  • And in Spain we finally got to Ronda and Cordoba and found Ronda to be a little gem.

It’s been a year for good year for eating too. We saved up enough to do some fine dining in Belfast, Brittany, Athens and Freiburg in the Black Forest and although the seafood at Patrick Jeffroy in Brittany was superb it has to be said the winter’s night offering at Ox in Belfast was probably the tastiest menu we sampled.

But really some the stand-out meals were more simple fare prepared with love in small places, like the tapas in the tiny bar in Evora that closes its doors once all 12 seats are filled. There was the ham, cheese and egg galettes in Brittany and the perfect Greek salad in Drepano, the frogs legs in Bayeaux and the pork & clams in Faro. Kate took to Flammenküche in Germany and Danny developed a real taste for Portuguese custard tarts.

With Brittany, Spain, Portugal & Greece in the mix it was an excellent year for sampling seafood with Danny finally getting to sample the hideous looking goose barnacles popular in Spain & Portugal which of course he took to straight away. And in our experience to date no-one grills like the Greeks, and my word they know how to stuff a squid! And of course the tortillas de camerones at Romerijo’s amazing seafood place in El Puerto Santa Maria which is now a “must” for us if we are in the vicinity.

We haven’t cycled as much as we would have liked, a side-effect of carrying the bikes partially dismantled in the garage, and we have pined for a good British hill-walk at times with a cosy pub and real ale at the end. We still miss hot-baths and roaring fires, the company of old friends and Christmases the way we used to spend them. But are we ready to trade it in? Not likely! Sitting in the sunshine on New Year’s Day in 22°C while we chat about where to go next is a good persuader of the joys of travelling. Ideally we’d like a base at home, but letting out the house lets us do this, and for now at least we’re going to keep on rolling. We don’t know what effect Brexit will have so we intend to make the most of next year. 

New Years Resolutions? The usual ones – drink less, lose weight and do more exercise. But also to wild-camp more (once the batteries are replaced) and, of course, explore more. Happy New Year!

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Christmas at Cabanas

28 November – 29 December 2019

When we arrived at our Xmas stop-over site at Cabanas de Tavira the Xmas music was playing as we entered and decorations were up all across the site. Our favourite were those at the end of our “road” where a French couple had decorated the oleander shrub with beer cans & tonic cans and as well as a snowman outside their awning, they had a full grotto inside and fabulous lights all over both ‘van and awning at night. Someone sure likes Xmas! It made us smile every time we went by. We managed to resist putting ours up until December – just – when Kate draped everything with lights and the small wooden Xmas tree from the Black Forest took pride of place on the table.

We spent our time walking, cycling, birdwatching and otherwise relaxing and enjoying the novelty of being in one place. Having been shown around by Trevor & Maggie in September helped as well. When the sun was out we really appreciated why the Algarve is so popular in winter as its warmth often brought the temperatures up above 20C and enticed some hardy people to sunbathe by the pool.

We took the train into Faro to explore and found an excellent restaurant down a back-street, Tasca do Ricky, where Ricky was a genial host and his wife an excellent cook. We went fully traditional – clams “a bulhao pato” (with garlic and coriander), pork & clams, and a magnificent main course of seafood cataplana. Cataplana is the name of the traditional pan, shaped like two clamshells with a clamp on either side which is used in the Algarve for cooking seafood. It was superb, with razor clams, mussels, clams, various sizes of prawns, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and coriander all combining to produce the most fantastic broth which we soaked up with bread until we were stuffed. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

One Friday night we took the train into Tavira to sample local nightlife and found it so low key you could have missed it, but the decorations were lovely. And we did get a nice curry.  On the theme of Xmas decorations, apparently there is a tradition for local communities to help their children make a nativity scene in their street every Xmas, and we found one near to us in Cabanas, enhanced by a snowman and multi-coloured tinsel Xmas tree. A lot of TLC had gone into it and we couldn’t help, rather sadly,  wondering how long it would survive in many English towns.

We found that out-of-season Cabanas has a full campsite but a quiet night-life which suited us but made us realise that many of the apartments must be for holidays rather than residential. However there are some real “locals” places which never close. One night we revisited the tiny bar with no name up the road in Conceicao and had a lively Google-translated conversation with the 76-year old owner who remembered us from our September visit. This time we sensibly stayed away from the Aguadente!

We endured 8 or 9 days of grey, wet, cold and windy weather as the rains finally arrived in Portugal over a month late and all at once. We may have hated it – Kate was heard to mutter “could get this at home” – but the ground really needed it and greedily sucked it up. Green shoots started appearing in no time and the local’s heaved a sigh of relief. To stop ourselves going slightly mad trapped in a tin box with rain beating heavily on the roof, we hired a car for a few days and explored a bit which made us appreciate the area inland, and allowed us to do a good Xmas shop in Tavira.

One morning the staff came round with a sleigh and gave a gift to every pitch which was a lovely surprise and really got us in the mood. The very next day the grey vanished and the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of our stay. It did feel a little odd to be sunning ourselves on Xmas Eve! We broke open the box of mince pies Dave & Sandra had kindly sent us, whipped up some brandy cream, and slowly worked our way through them. Now that really did  feel Christmassy!

Being new at this it felt even more odd to do a long walk in shorts and tee-shirts on Xmas Day, but please don’t think we are complaining. It was lovely. And unlike Xmas Eve when everything closes early in Portugal for family time, midnight mass and gift-giving, Xmas Day seems to see families out promenading in the afternoon sun and visiting the local bars for a glass of wine or nibbles. We were helped along in the Xmas mood by friends and family sending us pictures of roaring fires, real ale in lovely pubs, and their Xmas celebrations, and the campsite internet even got us through one or two FaceTime chats before giving up the ghost.

Later, after a full roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings and Xmas Pudding (again courtesy of D&S) we joined another English couple, across the way from us, in the great British tradition of playing silly games, whilst drinking, before rolling contentedly back to the ‘van’. Christmas Day had seemed so long coming and passed so fast!

The Friday after Xmas our near neighbours took us to John’s Bar where the English proprietor runs a weekly quiz. Fortunately, John put us together with a young couple from London who, despite being a few drinks ahead of us were able to save us from crashing and burning during the music round. We won a bottle of warm, sea-sweet Asti which we promptly shared in the warm glow of success. Our first pub-quiz win, ever!!

The day before we were due to leave we cycled out through the orange groves and bare persimmon trees, their orange fruits scattered on the floor, to Cacelha Velha. The sun was warm and we sat outside and had oysters, clams and brown crab as a ‘farewell to Portugal’ meal – yes, we know, any excuse will do.

And on our last night, we just had to go down to the front to watch the sunset over the Ria Formosa. We don’t know when we’ll be back, but we surely will.

 

Last Road Trip of the Year

27-28 November 2019

On another grey day we said goodbye to our lovely hostess and the “wettest part of Spain” as declared by the noticeboard outside the campsite. We had 2 days to make it to our Christmas quarters in Portugal and although we could have done it in one, we wanted to do some back-roads travel.

We headed out and onto the scenic A372 – why does “scenic” so often go along with disintegrating, narrow roads with crumbly edges? Well, it all adds to the interest and Kate took up “spotter” duty, calling “clear, clear, clear” on the left-hand hairpins as we twisted our way up amongst the oaks in the Sierra de Grazalema national park.  

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Sierra de Grazalema

It’s a lovely area with Grazalema village itself (pop. 2,205) nestled beneath cliffs in the valley carved by the Guadalete river. We noticed a complete lack of air conditioning units which could be down to its altitude (800m) or shade from the surrounding mountains, and it has the most spectacularly situated football pitch we have seen to date – and we’ve seen a few on our travels!

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Grazalema Village

We followed the road up through pine trees into the clouds and over the watershed where the  Guadalete river rises and a viewing point was barely visible through the mist. 

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Watershed in the Clouds

Going down the other side men with buckets were collecting acorns from the ground – free food for their animals perhaps, although we are told they can be used to make flour or coffee from them apparently.  

Approaching El Bosque we looked down on our first covered bull-ring – we assume a testament to unpredictable weather.

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El Bosque Bull-Ring, Sierra de Grazalema

As we left the mountains behind the sun came out turning the stubble on the rolling arable fields to light gold.

We spent the night on the quayside at Puerto Santa Maria just outside Cadiz where we sorted out our New Year plans and revisited Romerijo’s where Danny re-acquainted himself with the best Tortillas de Camerones in the world and had his first Percebes (Goose barnacles) which Kate couldn’t bring herself to try but mastered the art of preparing – holding the tip, twisting and pulling so the leathery sheath comes away to reveal the red flesh. Danny really liked them.

It was foggy when we woke and it lingered over the coast as we headed off to fill up on LPG which we had just run out of. Not so bright of us! We took a detour at Seville to Autocaravanas Hidalgo where we managed to get a replacement heating relief valve – ours is leaking – and mid-afternoon we entered Portugal and headed straight to a car-wash where we finally got the caked-on orange muck off. All bright and shiny we drove to our home for the next month. The entrance was festooned with Xmas decorations and playing Xmas music and it was beginning to feel a bit like Christmas 🎄🎵🎶🎵🎄

 

Ronda : Lunch & Local Stuff

24-26 November 2019

Sunday lunch at a restaurant is a thing, but not something we ever do. Inspired by the nice feel of the San Francisco quarter we booked ourselves in to a recommended restaurant on the corner of Plaza Alameda, a nice square with a fountain where locals gather to gossip and people-watch. 

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Plaza Alameds, San Francisco Quarter, Ronda

We were not disappointed. The tuna tartare was the biggest we had ever seen, and the scampi wrapped in filo served with a curry-infused sauce was delicious. Kate played safe with fish but Danny went for the local Rabo de Toro – the best he has had – and he sucked away happily on the bones until there wasn’t a thing left, much to the appreciation of the staff who rewarded us with a complementary dessert wine. Another great Rough Guide recommendation. The only difficulty was waddling home up the hill!

We needed to walk it off and although the weather wasn’t giving us the beautiful sunshine that would have set off the scenery to perfection we did do some exploring. One day we planned a circular walk, taking us up along a ridge through olive groves carpeted with small yellow flowers and sumac bushes in autumn colours. Small birds flitted about and the rain just about held off. When we reached the Ermita Virgen de la Cabeza – a chapel built next to a group caves where a small group of monks once lived and worshipped and where annual pilgrimages are still made – we found the gates firmly chained and padlocked, although the place is clearly well tended. 

We did however have great views across the Ronda basin to the town perched on the cliffs and we could appreciate again the gorge of El Tajo and the Puente Nuevo across it.

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Rainy Day view of Ronda

We had intended following a footpath down the ridge and walking to Ronda across the basin before climbing up the gorge to the bridge. However our plans had not taken into account the difference between MapMe.com and reality. The track was gated, barred, and marked as private. We tried to assess routes down but everywhere we looked there was either barbed wire or dogs guarding stock. We had to go back and enter town the normal way.

On a rainy afternoon we visited 2 of Ronda’s museums. First the Bandit Museum, small, cheap and mildly interesting. This is the Spanish version of the Wild West combined with Highwaymen, and is immortalised through rose-tinted glasses in films and TV series. Easy to see where Zorro came from. Next the much more eclectic and eccentric Lara Museum. The private collection of a local grandee it’s an extensive collections of all-sorts including : clocks, weapons, phones, pipes, typewriters, musical instruments, scientific instruments, knives, bullfighting, cinema and photography, witchcraft and torture Instruments from the Spanish Inquisition. Fascinating, and only €4 each. 

The only way to finish a damp, dark day like that was churros and hot chocolate before a last look at the bridge before walking back to camp. 

 

Ronda – The Bridge & The Bullring

21-23 November 2019

The rainbow on the day of our arrival was a false promise and we sat on our pitch listening to the rain drumming on the roof for 2 full days. But it was a nice site with piping hot showers and decent enough wi-fi and we were snug waiting it out.

On our 3rd morning the weather started to clear and we took advantage to walk into Ronda.  The clouds lifted for a while to show us the surrounding mountains of the Serrania de Ronda which were quite lovely and looked great for walking. Another day. 

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Serrania de Ronda

We entered the old city, the Ciudad, through the Moorish gate at the southern end of town where the huge medieval Iglesia del Espíritu Santo towers over everything.

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Moorish Gate & Iglesia del Espíritu Santo

We liked Ronda straight away as the Moorish maze of old streets drew us up through town to the main event, the Puente Nuevo.  We ignored the crowds and peered over the edge.  The Rio Guadalvín has cut sheer cliffs that plunge down 130m and this gorge even has its own name – El Tajo.

The famous 18th century Puente Nuevo spans El Tajo. Both the bridge and its setting are as dramatic and beautiful as we had heard and more than justify the constant flow of day-trippers.

We had a great lunch at a really traditional hole-in-the-wall tapas bar tucked inconspicuously away in the tourist area. Lucky to get a stool, our welcoming host insisted on us trying the house speciality, meltingly tender beef cheek, and Danny sucked happily on pieces of pork ribs. Spain is a bit of a foodie favourite for us.

After lunch we visited another 18th century building, the Plaza de Toros, built in 1871 and one of the earliest in Spain.

To our surprise, beyond the stockyards we found a very grand dressage arena lit by chandeliers where the RMR – Real Maetranza de Caballería de Ronda – trains riders and instructors in classical dressage.

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RMR Dressage Arena

The RMR started in the 16th century as a brotherhood of horsemen charged with defending Ronda. They developed the teaching of military equestrian arts and merged Moorish & European techniques to create a unique style, then with the emergence of bullfighting as spectacle they also developed techniques for handling bulls from horseback. For those interested in horses, it is the oldest riding school in Spain and 2nd oldest in Europe and specialises in the beautiful Andalusian thoroughbred horse. Sadly there were none in evidence although the stables are next door.

Putting its purpose aside, the bullring is elegant and attractive with a double arcade of sandstone columns. In the area underneath the tiers of seats is a display relating to RMR as well as a 19th century harness & livery collection.

Danny declared it all well worth the €8 entry fee. 

A copa of sherry and a tapas of Iberico bellota made a nice end to our first foray into Ronda. 

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Salud!

 

The Road to Ronda

20 November 2019

Our camera is not great, having been bought primarily to fit easily into Kate’s pouch and to meet her technical knowledge – so point-and-shoot. Which she does a lot. Taking photos from a moving vehicle on bumpy roads produce what you could call “mixed” results. Add to that the fact that today was another grey and sometimes wet day as we headed from Córdoba to Ronda, it was not good for photos. But one of the things we love about our travels is the changing scenery. Some people drive to get from A2B but we have always liked the road trip itself – provided motorways and traffic jams aren’t involved – and the scenery in Andalucia can be rewarding even on a bad day.

We drove down through Córdoba Province, through rolling hills with white villages on top amid a sea of olives, the valleys between filled with autumnal mist.

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Montilla, Córdoba Province

On into Seville Province where bare wheat-fields mixed with olives and the rain kicked up a broad band of orange earth against the sides of the van. Further on the Southern Highlands, Seville’s highest mountains reaching just over 1100 metres and gave us a nice, scenic drive, and we reflected on how different they would feel in the heights of summer.

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Southern Highlands of Seville Province

One of the things we have noticed across Europe is the sheer variety of roundabout decoration, so different from the sponsored plantings common in the UK, and Spain and Portugal have given us some great ones. They range from the naff and the quirky to professional-grade art and usually pass before the camera can be wielded. But not today, where the prize for best roundabout went to the one outside El Saucejo, a huge basket of olives celebrating the crop that sustains the town.

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Roundabout of the Day, El Saucejo

The rain stopped just before we reached Ronda and as we crossed it’s famous bridge heading for our campsite, a rainbow seemed to promise better weather.

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Ronda Rainbow

 

 

Cordoba’s Magical Mosque

19 November 2019

Cordoba was once the largest city in Roman Spain. Today it is a small provincial capital with a nice old centre and one outstanding attraction that pulls in  coach-loads of tourists  – the beautiful Mosque-Cathedral called the Mezquita.

We followed the maze of streets of the old Jewish Quarter downhill towards the river and found the walls of the mosque. Passing inside we found ourselves in peaceful gardens, the Patios de los Naranjas, its fountains and orange trees creating a green and peaceful area in front of the main building. For a fee we could have climbed the bell-tower, the Torre del Alminar, built at the same time as the Cathedral (1523) but were keen to get inside and explore.

The Mosque of Abd Al Rahman was built nearly 1300 years ago on the site of a Visigoth cathedral, and further developed by his successors over the next 50 years. We walked inside and stopped to drink it all in. We were looking at a forest of pillars supporting red and white arches stretching away into the distance, chandeliers creating a dim light and a rather magical atmosphere.

There are niches all the way around the mosque which have been appropriated for Christian chapels, but most seemed clumsy or fussy in comparison to the simplicity of the arches and the delicate beauty of the Islamic decoration.  At the far end the mihrab, indicating the direction of Mecca, was beautifully decorated and the dome of the first mihrab, designed to amplify the voice of the imam was also a work of art.

The Moors were conquered in 1236 and the beautiful mosque was consecrated as a church. After 300 years and after much resistance from the town council, a cathedral was built at the centre of the mosque. When it was complete, the king who permitted said “You have built what you or others might have been built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world”. Whilst the cathedral is far from ugly, it would be difficult not to agree.

Leaving the beauty of the mosque behind, we walked down to the Rio Guadalquivir and crossed the Roman bridge to the Torre de la Calahorra on the other side.

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Roman Bridge, Córdoba

This medieval tower holds a small museum over 3 floors (and has nice views from the roof) about Moorish Córdoba which was a nice way to finish the day.

We were limited to a one-night stay on the Aire because of the battery problems but were glad we had taken the time to visit Córdoba and Spain’s most beautiful mosque. We will be back to explore further.

 

 

 

 

Absconding to Andalucia    

12- 18 November 2019

We had intended heading further north through Portugal to the Douro valley but there is only so much rain we can take if we don’t have to. The 10-day forecast showed that the best weather realistically in range for us was around Seville so we drove through Lisbon and over the Vaso de Gama bridge (longest in Europe at 17km) and kept heading across Portugal to the Spanish border.

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Vasco de Gama Bridge, Lisbon

Mid-afternoon we crossed into Extremadura and carried on down into Andalucia through the lovely countryside of rolling hills cloaked in dehesa. It took a while for us to realise that on coming into Spain the time had jumped forward an hour, but when we did we started looking for a suitable spot for the night. 

We ended up down a dusty, bumpy track at a lovely spot just outside the small hill-town of Cumbres Mayores with a great view of it and its 9-turreted castle, just as the sun was going down.

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Cumbres Mayores Aire
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Cumbres Mayores

Our neighbours were a herd of Iberian black pigs and a flock of merino sheep, neither of which were inclined towards silence but we really liked them. Kate felt a little guilty cooking bacon within a few feet of them!

The castle, part of a line of fortresses built in the 13thC during the Spain-Portugal conflicts, looks was much grander than the small town that surrounds it. There are a couple of historic churches and, attached to the castle, a bull-fighting arena.

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Cumbres Mayores Bull Fighting Arena & Castle

But Cumbres Mayores main work is based around Iberian black-pigs and signs for Jamon Iberico production were everywhere, We tried to buy some but could only get it by the haunch so gave up.

We were, as usual, successful in finding a characterful little bar for a drink where we raised a glass to our new great-nephew, Ollie. With another 3 in the making we should be in double digits by next May!

We stayed a couple of nights and would have stayed longer if the batteries hadn’t been playing up so much that we had to run the engine for an hour before bed and again first thing in the morning. We needed to move on to find a hook-up. 

We headed further south through the hills of the Sierra Morena, evergreen oaks and stone pines mixing with the bright autumn colours of their deciduous cousins, and our British eyes marvelled at the sight of new-born lambs and calves in November.

Eventually we saw from the hillside the city of Cordoba spreading out where the Sierra Morena ended on the plains of the Guadalquivir River valley. We avoided the city and headed up the Guadalquivir to our campsite at Villafranca de Cordoba. 

We liked the nice but nondescript small town with its warren of narrow streets and nothing remarkable about it at all. We chilled out in the van and walked into town every day, dandering the backstreets.  We visited the Saturday market so like the one in our home-town but with better weather. We experienced our first overnight frost and a day of torrential rain that managed to block both TV & Wifi.

We turned up at Villafranca expecting to spend one night and ended up staying five. Seville would have to wait.

 

 

Time for a change of pace……      

7 – 11 November 2019

Sadly our first stop on leaving the campsite was a motorhome repair shop. The language difficulties were frustrating, but they confirmed our suspicions – 1 of our 3 leisure batteries was dead and another just okay. They disconnected the dead one and we faced up to the prospect of problems when not on a campsite.  

Lighter in pocket we headed off to the coast and a campsite at Guincho for what we hoped would be a lazy few days. It has to be said the weather wasn’t great – very British.

On a gloomy Saturday we hopped a bus into nearby Cascais which we had heard had  a nice old town. Hmm. Much bigger than we had expected, its old town was nice enough, although with a surprising amount of English menus and flyers – guess there are lots of ex-pats and holiday homes here.

We had decided to try traditional “bitoque” for lunch at a recommended place in the old town. Busy with locals we got the last table and were presented with a thin steak in a sauce heavily flavoured with garlic – even the fried egg on top tasted of it. The pickled carrot & cauliflower were an odd garnish but a pile of excellent fries redeemed it. Not photogenic.

When we got half a day of decent weather we explored the neighbouring Guincho-Cresmina dune system, a lovely area where boardwalks protect the vulnerable ecosystem. Down on the beaches we watched Atlantic breakers pound the shore before finishing in a cafe in the dunes with a lovely view out to the sunset and a civilised glass of wine.

But that was the high point. We spent a couple of hours re-fixing our hob – it’s never been the same since our dealer “repaired” it – and the following morning  completely unrelated, the water refused to drain from the kitchen sink. We spent a frustrating 6 hours on it before realising it was beyond us and the next day ended up travelling back to the motorhome repair shop.

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Jorge & Patricia – Our heroes at GoCaravaning

Lots of spilt water, high pressure air, sealant and patience later, we had a functioning and apparently leak free sink again. We were incredibly grateful and headed off into the evening to the aire at SIntra football ground. We checked the weather forecast for the next week and gave up on our plans for Portugal for now – Spain beckons.