Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Winter in Spain - The Final Week

Saturday 21st January
Starting Back

We left El Puerto de Santa Maria at 11 am and made our way north. The weather was sunny but quite cold. We stopped for a break at a service station at 12:30, then continued on our way. We stopped again for a snack lunch near Mérida before continuing on to Caceras where I had noticed that the road passed very close to a large reservoir, the Embalse de Alcantara. We  found a pleasant spot to stop for the night off the road near the reservoir. It is huge, formed by damming the River Tojo, though the water level was quite low. We had our evening meal and I tried taking some photos of the night sky as it was very clear with no light pollution.
Morag at the Embalse de Alcantara

Sunset over the reservoir

Starry sky, the constellation of Orion

Sunday 22nd January
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Morning mist over the reservoir
We woke with frost on the ground and a mist over the reservoir but the day cleared to bright sunshine again. Our journey continued along the Autovia de la Plata until we stopped for a break at a signposted picnic area near Banos de Montemajor. The "picnic area" had no tables, no grass, no bins nor any other facilities. It was nothing more than a large tarmacked car parking area.
We continued past Salamanca and had a lunch break at a service station. Onward past Valladolid and Palencia before looking for somewhere to spend the night. After leaving the motorway we eventually found an aire de camping for motor homes at Torquemada, the birthplace of Tomas de Torquemada, the main inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. We took Button for a walk in the cold sunshine and had our evening meal. No-one asked us any questions!
Morag (leftmost) atTorquemada

Monday 23rd January

The final stretch of the crossing of Spain to Bilbao was pretty uneventful passing through Burgos and Miranda de Ebro. The later part of the journey passed through some very nice scenery including a passage through the Sierra de Cantabria via tunnels and deep gorges.
Bilbao was very busy with traffic but our Sat Nav guided us to the camp site I had identified for our stay here. Unfortunately the camp site at Gorliz we found to be closed until the 1st March. I used the internet to find an alternative.
We drove to Sopelana and found the camp site. Although open it was quite rudimentary. We were only able to park on the access roads as most of the grass pitches had been reseeded and were taped off. The facilities were rather poor. The wash block had no heating or external doors so was very cold and none of the wash basins had hot water. There was hot water for showers but these, like everything else on site had seen better days. We thought the charge of €20 per night was excessive but we had found no alternative.
The good thing about the site was its proximity to the beach just a short walk down a steep road (and a steep climb back up to the site!) We took Button down for a run and a dig and for us to try and find somewhere for our evening meal. None of the restaurants and hotels were serving meals before 9 pm. Normal for the Spanish but far too late for us so we returned and ate our evening meal in Morag.
Atxabiribil beach, Sopelana

Climbing back up the hill

Tuesday 24th January
Pleasant Plenzia

We had arranged for Button to visit a vet in Sopelana for her pre-travel worm treatment as required under the UK PETS scheme. The vet clinic was near a nice park so we took Button for a walk there before her treatment. The vet was very pleasant and Button swallowed her two worming tablets, helped down by a generous wad of luncheon meat! The bill was only €12, easily the least we have ever paid for pre-travel treatment.
We drove on to Plenzia, an attractive coastal town on a river estuary. We strolled along the riverside walk and later went for lunch in a café/bar. After lunch, Button got her playtime on the beach before we drove back to the camp site.
Elegant footbridge at Plenzia

The riverside walk

Plenzia beach

Sunset at Atxabiribil beach

Wednesday 25th January
Guggenheim Art Museum

We took the metro from Sopelana to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Art Museum. The museum was as impressive as I had hoped with its titanium and limestone clad building with sweeping curves all around. We walked past Jeff Koons "Puppy", a giant floral sculpture near the entrance to the museum. Inside, we were impressed with the vast open spaces, particularly in the atrium. The individual galleries were also large and never crowded with too many separate works so it was possible to really look properly without feeling overwhelmed.
Guggenheim curves

Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye
Jeff Koons, Puppy


Jeff Koons, Tulips (Myself and Lyn reflected)

Curves and Glass
Lyn left at about 4 pm so that she could return to Button who had been left in Morag in Sopelana. I stayed on until nightfall so that I could get some photos of the museum building and its environs at night. I took dozens of photos during my wanderings, many of Louise Bourgeois "Maman", a giant, 9 metre high sculpture of a spider. I returned to the metro and to Sopelana at around 7:30.
More curves

Guggenheim and me (I hate selfies!)

Guggenheim generated mist

Yves Klein, Fire Fountain

Louise Bourgeois, Maman (and approaching meal?)
When we got back to the camp site we found that our pitch had been usurped by a German motorhome! Nothing we could do but park up nearby and make do.

Thursday 26th January
The Voyage Home

We packed up Morag ready for our return voyage to England this afternoon. We drove to the port and had a snack in the café while waiting to drive on board. We were loaded onto the ferry ready for our 3:30 departure and settled into our dog-friendly cabin. We would not have been happy with Button staying in kennels during the voyage. We ate our evening meal from the snack bar and settled down for the night.
Leaving Bilbao

Button settled in our cabin

Friday 27th January
Back in England

The passage was quite smooth and we woke early to go for breakfast in the restaurant. We arrived in Portsmouth on time but due to a problem with one of the loading ramps we had a long wait before being unloaded. Once off the ferry and through the pet screening routine, we drove via the M27, M3 and A34 to Kings Sutton to stay the night with Bob, Lucy and family.
Arriving in Portsmouth

Saturday 28th January
Home at Last

We left after breakfast and drove to Kenilworth to visit Lyn's sister Gillian. After a very nice lunch we continued on our journey home in grey, drizzly weather, arriving back at 4:30 pm. We were certainly back in England! Morag had behaved very well during the 2,900 miles of our trip.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Winter in Spain - Week Eight

Sunday 15th January
Cartagena to Granada

We left Cartagena for Grenada at about 10:30. This time we took the recommended motorway route. We made good progress in the bright sunshine but a strong crosswind did affect Morag. We stopped a couple of times to change drivers. The last part of the journey was very scenic with good views of the snow covered Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada
We reached the campsite at about 4:30. It is small but has reasonable facilities. We had intended to eat in the restaurant but it was not open on Sunday evenings, so we has Pasta and pesto in Morag.

Monday 16th January
NOT a good day

Not the most successful day of our trip! We decided to take the bus into Granada. We walked to the bus stop and waited about 15 minutes for the bus only to be told that we could not take Button. We walked back to the site and drove Morag into the city - but couldn't find anywhere to park. All the public car parks appeared to be underground with height limits.
So we drove back to La Zubia, the suburb where the camp site is located, to find somewhere to take Button for a walk.We eventually found a parking space but in manoeuvring I backed into an unseen litter bin and damaged the bodywork at the back of Morag! After Button had her rather grumpy walk we returned to the campsite.
We had a drink in the bar followed by an improvised meal of mussels and tuna omelet in Morag.

Tuesday 17th January
The Alhambra

We drove to the Alhambra, the must see sight in Granada. We wandered through the extensive site looking at the buildings and the gardens. The highlight was the visit to the Palacio Nazaries. The intricate plaster-work and the enclosed gardens were both beautiful and fascinating.
Astounding plasterwork ceiling in Palacios Nazaries

Lyn and the famous lion fountain

One of the internal gardens
Lyn walked back to Morag to give Button a break as she had been left for nearly 4 hours while I went on to visit the Generalife site nearby. This was just as interesting with many attractive water gardens.
After the visit we drove to a supermarket to stock up on supplies. Then on to the campsite for our evening meal and to rest weary legs.
Water gardens in the Genralife

Wedenesday 18th January
Skipping Seville

We packed Morag for our journey onward. We had intended to go on to Seville but, with our experience of parking problems visiting Granada, we decided instead to go on to El Puerto de Santa Maria near Jerez. Once again, the scenery on the journey was very interesting but with very few places to stop and enjoy the views.
The Sierra Cadiz on the way to Jerez
We reached the campsite at about 4:30. The site is very large and surprisingly full! We were shown to our pitch and, after "dropping anchor", we took Button for her evening walk on the beach, just across the road from the campsite.The beach was super; extensive with fine soft sand and clumps of palm trees here and there. Button loved it and rushed around like a puppy.
The beach at El Puerto de Santa Maria

Our 8 year old puppy!

We went for a meal in the site bar/restaurant. The meal was OK but the room was quite cold. I don't think they are geared up for low temperatures here; it was only about 4 degrees C.

Thursday 19th January
Searching for a restaurant

We took Button for her morning walk to the beach then walked into the town in the hope of finding somewhere for lunch. We had a coffee in a bar but were unable to find a restaurant that we fancied. Looking at the map later I realised that the restaurants were concentrated around one area near the river.
We walked back to Morag and had a snack lunch of bread, cold meat and cheese. We had passe a restaurant on the way back and decided that we would try that for our evening meal.We took Button back to the beach and through the nearby pine woods for her late afternoon walk, then walked to the restaurant only to find that it was closed! We returned to the campsite and had our evening meal in the bar/restaurant. We had a very good dish of mixed fried fish including shrimps, calamari, anchovies and battered fish pieces.

Friday 20th January

After Button's now regular morning walk on the beach, we drove into Jerez to visit one of the Sherry Bodegas. Once again we had difficulty finding a parking spot for Morag as the car park near to Gonzales Byass was underground with a height limit. We eventually found an on street parking place.
Our visit to Gonzales Byass was excellent with a comprehensive tour of the site followed by generous samples of four of the sherries accompanied by tapas. The sherries included Tio Pepe and Croft Original with which we were already familiar but my favourite of the four samples was a dry Oloroso sherry called Alfonso. We bought some bottles at the bodegas shop to take home. It was a very good value tour at €21 each.
Sherry casks

Lyn sampling the Tio Pepe

Four sherries and tapas
We drove back to the campsite via the supermarket, stocking up our supplies for the journey north to Bilbao tomorrow.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Winter in Spain - Week Seven

Sunday 8th January

We drove to Javea town for Lyn to go to the Baptist church while I drove up to the Montgo Park and took Button for a walk. Despite the bright sunshine there was a cold wind.
I picked Lyn up after the service and we went back to the villa where we had a barbecue. It was pleasant sitting in the sun but as soon as the shade came we were too cold to sit outside.
We had a Skype call with Bob and Family. A bit chaotic with a lively three year old but it is nice to stay in touch while we are away.
View looking north from the Montgo plateau

Monday 9th January
"New" coats

We took a trip down to the Arenal to see if we could find some coats to replace those stolen. We found good quality coats in a charity shop which fitted us well. We also bought a temporary replacement for Lyn's handbag. All in all a good bargain at a total of €17 for all three items.
We went on to Spasso's for a drink and tapas then took Button for a good run on the beach. The beach was nearly empty as the children are back at school and families have returned home. On the way back to the villa we called at Nigel and Maggie's to borrow Maggie's Pilates mat as Lyn is going tomorrow with Sue.
The Parador from The Arenal beach
We had a fry-up for tea to use up some of the stuff in the fridge. Afterwards I took another star trail photo.
Star trails from the roof terrace at the villa

Tuesday 10th January
Pilates and Music

Lyn went to the hairdresser down the road from the villa while I took Button for her morning walk.
After a snack lunch we drove to Sue and Andy's to collect Sue for the Pilates session in Benitatxell. We had some difficulty finding the place but arrived just in time for their class. While they were Pilating (?), I drove down to Moraira to take Button for a walk and have a beer.
Iron sculpture on Moraira beach

And from the other side
In the evening we drove back down to travel with Sue and Andy to a bar in Moraira for an acoustic music evening. There were some good performers there and we all did a turn at singing. We had a really good evening.

Wednesday 11th January
The Cowboy and the Witches

We went to El Gaucho for lunch with Sue and Andy. The food and service were excellent. We all had very good steaks as our main course - the El Gaucho speciality. We were served with several extra taster courses as well as our chosen starters and desserts.
The El Gaucho restaurant
Lyn, Sue and Andy enjoying our steaks

Lyn and the cowboy's horse
After the meal we took Button, who had been waiting patiently in Morag, to the beach. She did her usual playful running and digging. She was a little reluctant to go in the sea as the waves were rather fierce.
Big waves at the Arenal
Sue and Andy came up for a game of "The Witches" in the evening. Lyn won.

Thursday 12th January
Scallops and DVD

We spent the morning doing some preparation of Morag for our journey onward on Saturday. We went down to Scallops for lunch and sat outside in warm sunshine. Button got another run on the beach. The sea was much calmer today.
Button digging again
Back at the villa we had a simple tea and watched a DVD, "Johnny English". It was quite funny but not a great film.

Friday 13th January
La Boheme 

We continued loading up Morag for our journey tomorrow. We'll still have some more to do in the morning but it shouldn't take too long. 
We returned to La Boheme for our lunch as a celebration farewell to Javea. The meal was just as good as last time.  We both had fish as our main course; Tempura Cod for Lyn and Thai Green Curry Fish and Seafood for me. Button got her last run on the Arenal beach after lunch and we returned to the villa after doing a little shopping for our onward journey tomorrow.

Saturday 14th January
To Cartagena 

We spent most of the morning finishing  packing Morag and tidying the villa with lots of dog hairs to remove! We left at about 11am to meet our friends at Scallops for brunch. Next time we see Sue and Andy they should have completed their move to England. 
We made our way to Cartagena following the coast road. The road was busy and progress was slow,  particularly through the towns. We found the motor home park in Cartagena very easily. It was small and rather cramped but surprisingly well equipped  with free Wi-Fi, electric hook up, dog walking area, toilets and showers and laundering facilities.  There was even a visitor lounge with TV and books; all for €10 per night! When we started to make our tea we realised that we had left all the contents of the fridge at the villa! No cheese, milk, fruit juice and white wine! We found a nearby shop and restocked. We asked Sue and Andy to go and raid the fridge in Javea.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Winter in Spain - Week Six

Sunday 1st January
New Year's Day

We got up pretty late today. I had a slight hangover. At lunchtime we drove down to the Arenal to watch the New Year swim. About 50 people, many in fancy dress, took to the water. Not us though!
New Year swim
We met Sue, Andy, Maggie and Nigel in Spasso for a drink then went to Scallops for lunch. We had a good meal for very little cost. After lunch we took Button for her walk before heading back to the villa.
As sunset approached, I drove to the Cap de la Nao to take some photos.
Golden sea at Cap de la Nao

Sunset at Cap de la Nao

Monday 2nd January
A quiet day

After some shopping at the small Saladar supermarket we drove to Maggie and Nigel's. We met their dogs and I was able to print out my insurance documents for Morag. Lyn was in her element surrounded by eight dogs.

Tuesday 3rd January
Highway to Hell

We drove up to Pinasol to meet Sue and Andy and visit a clearance shop called Highway to Heaven who were having a sale of stock. Our friends in Javea affectionately know it as "Highway to Hell!" The shop is at an English pub and bowling green. The green was in good use. We all grabbed some bargains at the sale.
Bowling in the sun
We went from there to Scallops restaurant for our breakfast.
In the afternoon we drove up into the Montgo park and went for a walk with Button from the picnic area.
The Ibiza ferry returning to Denia

Wednesday 4th January

After another Scallops breakfast we took Button for a walk near the Parador. This section of the coast has blocks of the sandstone cut away forming what at first look like ancient walls of buildings. I think that they are actually the result of quarrying the stone for decorative use locally. There were several rock pools here and Button had great fun chasing the fish!
Chasing fish!

The stone quarry
We went to the Arenal for a drink then on to Andy and Sue's apartment for Pimms and a snack. It was very pleasant sitting in the sun and chatting with Sue, Andy, Maggie and Nigel.
Lyn at the Arenal
In the evening I had a go at using the live comp facility on my camera to take star trails from the roof terrace.
Star trails from the roof terrace

Thursday 5th January
Three Kings

Our third Scallops breakfast was followed by another walk for Button in the rock pools near the Parador.
In the evening we drove down to the Port to see the festival of the arrival of the Three Kings, a major festival all along this coast. It was very interesting with spectacular costumes, drum bands, dancers and live animals.
The Kings arrive - by boat, not camel!

Joseph, Mary and Jesus

Gifts for all the children - I didn't see one for Jorge

King Melchior

Geese, part of the parade of farm animals

King Caspar throwing sweets to the children

King Blathazar
Once the parade had passed, we went for a drink then Andy, Sue, Lyn and I went to Scallops for a steak.

Friday 6th January

We drove via the motorway to the Albufera de Valencia, a large lagoon about 50 miles north of Javea. We were disappointed that we were unable to find any good bird watching or walking areas. We stopped at one viewpoint where it was possible to take a boat trip on the lake. We passed up on the opportunity because of Button.
Tourist boats on the Albufera
We drove on to El Palmar, the main town in the Albufera park, and walked through the town. We were surprised at the huge number of restaurants, all set out for meals in the sun. The car park had been empty when we arrived. Where were all the customers to come from? We stopped for a drink at one of the bars and returned to the car park to find it absolutely full. It seems that the whole of Valencia comes here on Three Kings day for lunch!
Restaurants along the canal in El Palmar
We started on our way back and stopped at El Perellonet for a picnic on the beach. The extensive beach was all but deserted. We threw the ball for Button who had a good time on her birthday.
Button on her eighth birthday
When we returned to the van we were surprised to find the passenger door unlocked. We didn't realise until much later that the lock had been forced and Lyn's handbag and our coats had been stolen! Luckily they had not taken our passports, which were in the glove compartment, or Lyn's binoculars which were under a cushion on the back seat. The thief must have forced entry and taken the handbag and coats and scarpered quickly.
Once we got back to the villa the evening was spent ringing banks to stop credit cards

Saturday 7th January
Javea Town

We went down to the Arenal to meet Sue and Andy for a drink. Button had a good run on the beach. There were a few less people around today now that the Three Kings festival is over. We did a little shopping for the evening meal as we had invited Sue and Andy to join us.
We drove into Javea Town to report the theft to the police but arrived too late as the police station had closed at 2 pm. We walked around the town for a while and had a hot drink at a bar.
A street in Javea old town

An interesting take on Christmas decorations

Javea market hall. It looks old but was built in 1948
Sue and Andy arrived at the villa in the evening. We had a fish and chip meal and played a game of "Canalmania". I won - at last!