Posted in Spain

6th January – Coloured buildings and skyscrapers

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After spending a wonderful time over Christmas and New Year with family and friends, it was finally time to leave Salisbury for Spain. Flying over the Pyrenees I stared out of the window, where many thousands of feet below I could see the snow capped mountain chain separating France and Spain. It looked beautiful, but cold and remote; I was longing for warmth, for walks in the countryside, the sound of the sea, sandy beaches, paella and wine, and above all else, the sun.

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We have decided to be less nomadic in the next 3 months, and to start with we chose a pretty campsite at Villajoyosa, set back from the coast in amongst the fields with beautiful views of Puig Campana, a bare rocky mountain of 4,613 feet. (1,406 meters). The craggy mountains to the side create a backdrop for the villages nestled underneath, many of the houses having their own areas to grow vegetables, orange and lemon trees are hang heavy with fruit, almond blossom is just starting to show and chickens scratch around among the weeds. Broad beans, artichokes, and even tomatoes growing outside, the lovely Burmuda buttercup carpets the ground in places and there are several Poinsettia trees with bright red bracts, so amazing to see the full grown plant when we only see them in pots at Christmas.

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It takes around 25 minutes to walk into the town and stroll along the promenade beside a large sweeping bay with soft white sand, the most striking features are the beautiful multi-coloured houses that line the seafront. Stretching up 3 or 4 storeys high, many with restaurants, cafes and bars under the living accommodation, they have decorative wrought iron grills on windows and balcony surrounds, with bougainvillea, jasmine and geraniums adding more colour while the deep blue sky sets everything off to perfection.

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At the other end of the long beach is a picturesque harbour with yachts and cruisers reflecting in the water, while over the wall are the fishing vessels and working boat yard. Black headed gulls line up along the walls with numerous cormorants stretching their wings out to dry; black mullet swim in large groups of varying sizes in crystal clear water.

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The small village of Finistrat looks picturesque lying close to the foot of the mountain, a welcome sight after walking up hill for 5 miles along the edge of a road with little traffic. The final steep push led us into the village itself with narrow streets shaded by tall houses, a pretty church with an unusual pastel coloured interior, several small shops and tremendous views in every direction.

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A walking trail sheet from the tourist information office took us around many places in the village with wall plaques giving points of information. Continuing uphill again we found a small new looking amphitheatre, beautiful gardens, a few sculptures and a white chapel hidden away in pine trees right under the mountain. It was a lovely day and thankfully the walk was all downhill on the return journey.

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A much shorter walk passing though the rural lanes took us to the small village of Ermita de San Antonio. Ermita means chapel in Spanish and there has been a place of worship established in the village since 16th century. We met up with others from the campsite for tapas and drinks before returning for a late lunch together and an afternoon game originating from Finland called Mölkky, something akin to skittles. We thoroughly enjoyed being included in the activities of the C&C Rally, learning how to play Whist, being part of the team which won the quiz, and a really great Fish’n’chips night with music of our era.

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Never having been to the infamous Benidorm with its reputation for high rise blocks, loud music and drunken behaviour; we had read an article in the MMM magazine for motor-homers that detailed a different side of the city. We caught a tram for the 15 minute ride along the coast where we found the typical image of Benidorm, its high rise apartments, holiday accommodation and hotels fringed by the golden sand beaches.  But it is not all there is to see here.

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We were soon walking past some attractive buildings with interesting shutters and architecture. In the Old Town area, attractive shop fronts selling everything from clothes and handbags, delicious bread and cake shops to Chinese Bazaars where there is a massive range of items you didn’t even know you wanted! Trees trimmed for the winter months will provide greenery and more shade later into Spring and few flowers added colour to the areas of benches. The tall buildings made the narrow streets rather cool but it was an attractive area and in warmer months it would be great to eat lunch alfresco while enjoying a bit of ‘people watching’, but in the shade it was not very good for photography unfortunately.

 

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A street of cobbles with steps and an archway leads uphill to the 18th century Church of San Jamie, white with the beautiful blue, tiled domes and a 4 sided tower housing the bell. Leading out onto a black and white Plaza with views over both Playa Levante and Playa Poniente, the paved area is completed with a circle of canons leading to where a castle used to stand. Now there is a wonderful multi-sided viewpoint; the sany beaches either side, Benidorm rock is far out in the bay, seating arranged around a pergola which in turn leads to a set of steps down to a lower vantage from where you can see the whole panorama.

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We found an interesting bar to have some lunch, it had factory like ducting near the ceiling, old fashioned lights, memorabilia on the walls and a counter full of delicious tapas. So much choice, 5 items for €9 – (£8), which was more than enough for two of us.  Oops, I ate the prawns before I took the photo!

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Along the seafront where I noticed a mural depicting a mariner in his boat with compass, paddles, anchor and fish.

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Taking the promenade next to Playa Poniente towards some skyscrapers, I particularly wanted to see the Intempo; the highest residential building in Spain at 630 feet (192 meters). It was completed in 2015 with a total of 55 floors and cost £72,500,000! It divides opinion, but I really liked its simple design of two towers with the elaborate golden cone connection in the middle. Close by were two tall curved buildings with blue glass that I also liked and the juxtaposition with a simple brick tower made an interesting and colourful combination.

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Returning to Villajoyosa by tram later on we were looking forward to a sit down having walked a total of 9 miles. No rest for us though, we had to take down our awning and repack Bessie ready for our drive up to Javea in the morning.

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Posted in Spain

7th December – Revisiting Old Haunts

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Abandoning the usual gentle pace on country roads, I just wanted to get around Malaga so chose to use the Autovía as white fog shrouded the surroundings from view. An hour into the drive, gradually glimpses of the scenery appeared as the day warmed up and the air around us cleared, revealing hills and countryside to our left with the sea far away on the opposite side. We had spent many night on free Aires and needed to charge the toothbrushes and electrical devices again, so opted for a few nights at a campsite in Torre del Mar. Being right on the edge of the town enabled us to walk on tracks beside the fields planted with brassicas of some description. Sparrows, goldfinches and serins were everywhere feeding on the weed seeds, giving us bright flashes of colour as they flew to the bushes when we passed by. Wild flowers including a beautiful Morning Glory lined the fences and ditches, a stream with tall bamboo type rushes and lush green surroundings gave views of egret, mallard and moorhen, while the loud call of Cettis warbler exploded from the depths of the reeds as we came out onto the beach.

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In the other direction there were many attractions of restaurants and bars alongside the beach. Ignoring numerous high rise apartments, we chose to admire the 12 meter wide promenade with the patterns made up of white, black and red stone, all so clean and litter free. Alongside that was a dedicated cycle path of red tarmac used by all wheeled vehicles from mobility scooters, electric bikes, children’s electric cars and roller-skaters. Added to this was lovely wide garden with meandering pathway, benches under palm trees with colourful flowers and a bandstand where we saw an exercise class taking place.

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Children had a dedicated and well equipped play areas while adults were not left out, having outdoor gym equipment, tennis courts and nets for volley ball on the beach. Bars and restaurants were spaced along the promenade, the smell of fresh sardines, cooked on a stick by olive wood fires tempted us a couple of times with a refreshing beer on the beach.

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Torre del Mar has several interesting buildings that we saw. The lighthouse in Torre del Mar was built in 1826 and stands at 26 meters tall. To accommodate the growing town it has been moved several times and the iconic and elegant, blue and white lighthouse is situated on the promenade where the beam can be seen 13 nautical miles out to sea. A shorter stone lighthouse stands next to it which had undergone a recent restoration.

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For something a bit different we visited a renovated sugar mill building, now an exhibition centre, addionally three tall, brick chimneys originally part of the sugar extraction business still stand nearby. Information boards, partly in English, told something of the industry history in the area and there were photographs of Torre del Mar showing the development during the last 30 years. It has grown considerably from a small, sparsely populated, beach-side town, having fishing and the remnants of the old sugar mill industries, into a significantly built up, tourist attracting ‘hot-spot’. There were models of local buildings, churches, farms and the river in central position within the exhibition and some of the details were amazing.

On the top floor was an unusual museum; it shows a Frenchman’s collection of over 2,000 ‘irons’ some dating to the 16th century. There were flat irons, coal heated irons, gas and electric irons; in fact I couldn’t believe the number of styles and transformation this humble, household gadget had been through. The display had irons from all over the world with various decorative additions on the metalwork and the style of handles. One exhibit was a cylindrical container that held hot embers, with cradles to hold multiple irons around its circumference, this enable teams of ladies to iron vast quantities of cloth/clothing with continuous hot irons – quite ingenious for the era. There were also some of the first ‘powered washing machines’ which looked like half a wine barrel with the ‘old style dolly’ suspended on a lid, this in turn was powered by a belt driven by a small motor on the floor beside it. If you had all the mod-cons, there was also a powered mangle to squeeze out the excess water. I feel so lucky to live in a modern world of labour saving machines.

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Calhetta is located about an hours walk along the promenade with a harbour of fishing boats and a few pleasure boats. It didn’t seem as busy as Torre del Mar, more laid back in this low-season with only a couple of small bars open; we didn’t walk into the town itself but contented ourselves with a picnic lunch on the wide sandy beach watching the gulls.

Along the coast a short drive away is Nerja, a place we know quite well having been several times and it is always a pleasure to return to. Luck was on our side to get parking next to Burriana Beach with views straight over the sand and sea. Soon we were relaxing on our sun loungers in warm sunshine for a while before meeting up with a friend, Malcolm, and we caught up with each other’s news over lunch.

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Plans made to meet up again were thwarted by a sudden change in the weather; grey, very cool and thoroughly wet. We used the day to travel, the first 2 hours in horizontal lashing rain with the headlights on and wipers on fast mode. A brief pause for lunch an onward again as we broke through into sunshine at last with views opening up in front of us. After endless plastic greenhouses the landscape changed eventually and took on a green hue as vegetation covered the ground among the rocks. Mountains in the distance added scale to the panorama of fields, crops of artichokes with their grey spiky leaves and acres of cauliflowers being harvested by teams of pickers, all bent double and swiftly filling the large plastic crates. Olive and orange trees lined up in rows took up swathes of the fertile, flat lands between the low, stone farm houses, while fruit trees of some variety were protected from birds and insects inside large net greenhouses.

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After a drive of 220 miles we arrived in Bolnuevo, near Mazarrón for our final week, we wasted no time in relaxing as this was also a return site for us. A walk west through the small town soon lead us to the wonderful, naturally eroded sand sculptures, their shapes and colours against the blue sky meant that I couldn’t resist taking photographs again.

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A longer walk to Mazarrón, via the beach, rocky islands and two harbours was most enjoyable after three days of little activity. The day warmed up considerably making it very pleasant to stand around looking at the array of boats from simple fishing vessels and sailing yachts to rich boys toys; the large plastic looking motor cruisers covered in cushions and chrome.

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By the harbour we has a two course Menú del Día of wonderful fish and seafood accompanied by a glass of wine each for the princely sum of €13 a head, after which we walked more leisurely back beside the sea to relax on a nearly deserted beach; we didn’t eat another thing until the following day!

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Away from the coast we walked on the tracks and fields around the village of Bolnuevo with the idea of spotting a few birds. Rows of tattered, plastic sheeted greenhouses which had seen better days, situated adjacent to the next generation of rigid plastic panel greenhouses bursting at the seams with tomatoes. Further into our walk we found two tractors with very high-tec machinery; firstly preparing the ground into ridged rows four at a time, then the next tractor laid irrigation pipe into each row and put holes in ready for the plants to be dropped into. Finally we found a field where the process was complete and the plants growing in this optimum climate, plenty of sun and constant irrigation.  A short while later we eventually found a small lake with some pochard and a few white headed ducks, new for our list this trip and now standing at 106 species. A paella cooked on our BBQ and enjoyed alfresco was a welcome feast after our lengthy walk.

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After 7 nights in Bolnuevo it was time to move to our final destination for a single night at Villajoyosa, a beautiful site with views of a mountain and range of hills. As usual we set off to explore setting off downhill to a harbour and wide sandy beach, we will get walking trail leaflets from the tourist office when we come back.

This is our longest trip yet, travelling through France, Portugal and across Spain; in 11 weeks I have driven a total of 3,126 miles, we have walked 254 miles, seen many wonderful places including lovely countryside, beautiful cities and many deserted beaches. So now it is time for Christmas with family and friends after our flight back to UK tomorrow. We will return and continue travelling in Spain at the beginning of January 2019 …..

Posted in Portugal, Spain

27th November – Portugal into Spain

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Moving inland from the coast pausing for brief overnight stops along the Guadiana River which forms the boundary between Portugal and Spain, we moved north to experience the countryside and visit the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana. The small village of Alcoutim was first with an old ruined castle, narrow streets and the river with views across to Spain. It was not a peaceful night with noisy barking dogs and two lots of church bells chiming the hours, one on Portuguese time, the other an hour ahead on Spanish time, definitely not staying for a second night. Fog from the river blotted out the view, but as we made our way up the hills we came up into sunshine and blue skies, the eucalyptus trees with peeling bark and Holm Oaks dominated the fields. At Mértola located in the Parque National, we crossed a beautiful old white arched bridge to a lovely Aire by the river with uninterrupted views of hillside, a herd of goats complete with their tinkling bells, mallard on the river along with a few boats.

 

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The small town meandered uphill over cobbled streets, some so narrow that a car filled the road, shops and small bars edged the roadway with an occasional larger hotel. At the top of the town was a very old castle ruin that had been maintained to display the tall keep and 3 other small corner towers, with information, displays and aerial video footage of the location. The castle sat on a high rocky peninsular with the River Guadiana on one side and a smaller tributary on the other, the castle buildings were long gone but it’s position in the landscape looking down over the church and town was wonderful.

 

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Our final night in Portugal was at Mina de São Domingos staying on our 3rd free Aire looking out over lakes created by dams, it was both peaceful and picturesque. There were many ‘Strawberry Trees’ or Medronhos Tree (arbutus undeo) that had both the beautiful delicate bell shaped flowers, creamy in colour with a faint pink blush, and the vibrant red fruit that looks similar to a strawberry. The fruits are edible but are better cooked, they are also made into a strong liquere, Aguardente de Medronhos known as a local fire water!

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A walk through the village lead us to explore the old mining area with amazing colours created by the iron and sulphur from the rocks. The inky black water that filled the pits looked foreboding but showed great reflections of the colours. Abandoned crumbling buildings of the mines gave us an idea how large the workings must have been, with a large workshop, loading and railway sidings, and offices. Two of the locomotives used at the site were actually built there, the ore was transported to Lisbon and eventually to England for processing. The mine only closed in 1966 and it was quite shocking seeing the level of decay of the buildings and general area, and to think of all those men working hard in such tough conditions only 50 years ago.

 

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And so onward into Spain crossing the border over a huge bridge spanning the River Guadiana again, using our preferred rural routes across country we immediately found the road surfaces were better, some with white paint too! The fields had multi coloured goats, sheep and young lambs and also the pale golden cattle. Large fields with studded with numerous Holm Oaks are known as a Dehesa, they have grass and shrubs below and it is where black pigs are raised slowly, fattened on the acorns in the autumn which then produce the most wonderful Iberican Jamón that is dry cured and hung up to age.

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Essential fuel, gas and food shopping completed in Huelva, we took the coast road east eventually turning inland to El Ricío. We stayed here previously and it certainly deserved a return visit, it is a lovely old ‘wild-west’ town with sand roads and a tidal lake complete with flamingos, spoonbills, godwits, numerous species of ducks and my favourite wader, the elegant black winged stilt.

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The weekend was buzzing with activity, in the town centre were numerous mules harnessed up to four-wheeled carriages for tourist rides around the town and into Doñana National Park.

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Fine horses being riden around, ladies riding side saddle and men showing their handling skills, even Shetland ponies giving rides to children. The small town is famous for its equestrian links hosting the largest annual pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary every May and attracts over a million people from all over Spain and other locations in Europe.

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The beautiful church was a focal point for everyone with music and drums, elaborate decorative staffs, flowers and banners being paraded through a huge arched door to the sound of the church bells. It was so colourful and full of energy, young and old together for a weekend of celebration.

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Moving east along the coast we stopped at Zamora with its beautiful long beach and lighthouse, then Barbate with a pretty harbour before making our way to Porto de la Dequesa to catch up with friends. There was a wonderful free parking area for a couple of nights with views directly overlooking the beach, we watched a beautiful sunrise, fishing boats going in and out of the harbour and looked at the cormorants on the rocks close by as they dried their outstretched wings.

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After a good long walk along boardwalks by the beach stopping to read the notice boards about the native flora, we eventually turned around and walked along the sand for the return journey. The marina full of yachts and motor boats forms a central focus for cafes and bars, a lovely place to have a drink and watch the sun go down.

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Posted in Portugal

9th November – Algarve Ambles

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We have taken things quietly since leaving Lisbon, needing a break in the countryside and visiting the coast. As usual we took the quiet rural roads and stayed at an Aire at Lousal, a remote ex Pyrite mining village where there was a museum with information in English, several displays, and a large building housing hospital equipment and old mining engines.

In the countryside we saw ewes with new born lambs and cows with very young calves, seemed odd to me but perhaps the breeding cycle starts after the summer when it is cooler here. Driving along empty roads we were lucky to see a flock of around 100 stone curlews (rare and migratory in the UK), they were circling having been alarmed buy a bird of prey, they soon settled on the ground again and became almost invisible against the soil. A shepherd moved his flock of sheep around us on the quiet road, several horses and an occasional donkey grazed in the fields edged with stone walls and we passed under a shady eucalyptus avenue.

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By the roadside there were fields of cork oaks that had recently been harvested, their thick, rough trunks now a smooth, a bright chestnut brown colour to the height where branches began, the cork having been peeled away in great sheets to be processed into goods and wine corks.

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On the Atlantic coast at Zambujeira we enjoyed a few days walking, admiring the rugged cliffs, pretty bays and watching the big waves rolling in. The colours were amazing and the Ice-plant covered much of the surface with its fleshy triangular spikes. It is not a native plant to Portugal but was brought in to stabilized the sandunes where it quickly proliferated and is now everywhere. There were reflections on the wet sand of the cliffs and buildings above, small rock pools and I even paddled in November!

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On one walk we saw the cliff nesting white storks standing on old nests and circling above us with their amazing wingspan of approximately 6 ft (2 m). Strangely we passed a field with many exotic animals, quite weird to see so many different species peacefully grazing, further along the lane we realised they were from a wildlife park.

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In the village there were white houses with colourful paintwork and a house covered in shells a small village square, with sparse numbers of tourists it was peaceful and relaxing.

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At the tip of Portugal on Cape de São Vicente there is an old fort with a lighthouse perched high on the vertical rocks, very picturesque in the sun. It was extremely windy up on the cliffs made me nervous with the vertical drop to the sea far below, and the waves were very loud crashing into a cave below the lighthouse. The gift shop had some great pottery sculptures of sea life that was for sale but I only took photos, they wouldn’t look right at home.

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The low flat limestone slabs that covered the area provided habitat for some low growing flowering plants as well as small bushes. Far out at sea we could see gannets diving, yellow legged and black headed gulls flew over the cliffs while crested larks, sparrows and numerous stonechats inhabited the windblown clifftops.

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Gradually making our way east, stopping for a few nights at a very good camping site at Turis Campo at Espeche, an easy 2 mile walk to the resort of Praia de Luz where you can watch the surfers from the beach. Although it looked cold everyone was wearing wetsuits, hair plastered to their faces and fighting against the waves. So much energy, lying on their boards paddling with their arms to catch a wave and balancing to ride the wave in.

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Stopping briefly at Lagos we wanted to walk the headland to see beautiful coloured rocks dropping steeply to the sea below. A gravelled pathway and boardwalk lead across the flat cliff tops allowing good views of the geology, rocky stacks and archways below, it really was not to be missed.

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In Portimão the wonderful reflections of the yachts in the marina with colourful apartments behind really seemed to glow in the sunshine. Rain kept threatening but thankfully we were lucky and walked the length of the promenade with a brief stop for refreshments.

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With arrangements made to meet friends at Olhão east of Faro we enjoyed tapas together with Sara and Chris at a local restaurant. The town has some narrow streets and squares with some attractive buildings, a church and tree lined avenue up the centre. There are also two lovely market buildings with fish, meat the produce, bars and restaurants line the pedestrian area overlooking the harbour. At each low tide the busy clam farmers gather the harvest in back breaking work, bent double and working by hand with small rakes and forks to collect a sack full. It is one of the main industries in this area, small ones sold locally and the quality larger clams abroad for the best money.

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We had a trip out around the islands and water channels seeing loads of birds; godwit, whimbrel, ringed plover, little egret, grey plover and lots of spoonbills among others.  A short walk on a deserted island over the sand dunes gave us good views of 100s of curlew resting on a sand bar, showing the diagnostic long, down curved beak. On the long narrow island of Culatra was where we saw the oyster boats, the fishermen were busy unloading the days collection having collected them from mesh sacks held horizontally on staging out in the sea. We enjoyed a late lunch with the small group of French people also on the trip, many oysters were consumed by them, but we had large fresh prawns followed by Golden Dorada (sea bream) which was delicious. Returning 2 hours later than expectedthere was a magnificent sunset, a perfect end to the trip.

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We have been staying at a campsite under pine trees where we regularly saw azure winged magpies, jays and a hoopoe, and the local nature reserve with fresh water and salt water lagoons added a few species to our growing list of birds, with a total of 94 seen since the beginning of our trip. For our last night we walked around the town to see the Christmas lights and the Bom Sucesso boat all lit up. The boat is a replica of the ship sailed by 17 sailors to Rio de Janiro in 1788 to inform their exiled King that Portugal was now under Portuguese rule, the fishermen of Olhão had rebelled which eventually resulted in the French leaving Portugal.

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Posted in Portugal

4th November – Lovely Lisbon

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After nearly 50 years I finally arrived back in Lisbon. My young, teenage memory from a school cruise consisted only of one fort and one monument, aided by two postcards I’d bought back then, and that I’ve  kept ever since. Now I wanted to find the places again, and so much more besides in Portugal’s capital city.

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With a bus stop very close to our city campsite, located in a great greenspace within a pine wood, it was easy to travel in and out of the city centre although it took around 45-60 minutes dependent on traffic. Once there, a great way to get around was the Yellow Bus Tours; we paid for a 72 hour pass which not only allowed us to see all 3 routes around the city, but also a tram tour and boat ride which was excellent value for money.

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Arriving in Praça do Comércio the first impression was one of scale. A huge plaza situated on the edge of the River Tagus estuary, historically traders would sell goods here hence the name of the Plaza. The Praça do Comércio was totally reconstructed in 1755 after a huge earthquake destroyed much of Lisbon, followed by a devastating tsunami which left thousands dead and much of the city in ruins.

Traditional painted buildings line the Plaza on three sides, the central one having the enormous and elaborate gate, Arco da Rue Augusta, with three statues representing Glory , Valour and Genius which are part of the Portuguese coat of Arms. In the centre of the Plaza is another statue, one of King José I on horseback dated 1883, who was the ruler during the reconstruction.

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Setting off on the top deck of the open-top Yellow Bus Tour, we went out on a general city tour along the main avenues and historic central districts with a commentary over headphones informing us of details of sites and monuments as we passed by. Colourful tall building lined our route with obilisques, fountains and several statues; there were plentiful trees with garden areas and decorative pavements of many designs in typical Portuguese style.

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One of the most elaborate buildings we passed was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in 1496 and donated to the Monks of Saint Jerome. With its very long, white stone façade glinting in the bright light it seemed to be split into 3 sections with the heavily decorated main double door having numerous statues, a domed bell tower with pinnacles and balustrades to the side. The long length of the building featured many arched windows, split by a square two storey section with another entrance and windows above. At the far end was an impressive, vaulted entrance with tall twin towers either side of it.

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Rossio Square is beautiful and designed with a black and white wave pattern stone pavement. A theatre is located on one side with white columns with a frieze above, to the opposite end is a fountain and in the centre a white column with heraldry around its base a statue at the top of Dom Pedro IV who reigned briefly over Portugal. It is a lovely place where there were lots of benches so it is obviously a place locals like to gather.

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Bus tours took place numerous times a day doing circuits to different areas of the city, together with tuk-tuks giving private tours and novelty rides. There were also trams on regular service up the narrow, hilly parts where busses didn’t go, but we took the Tourist Red Tram to the old town districts of Baixa and Alfama.

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Getting off at the National Monument of Castelo de São Jorge, sitting high above the city below, we found out it was not only a ruined castle, but a former palace and part of a residential area for the elite many centuries ago. Originally built by the Moors in the mid 11th century, modified and enlarged many times, it was mainly used as a palace until the 16th century when it then took on a more important military role until the early 20th century. Evidence was found of housing going back to 700 BC during recent archaeological excavations which is ongoing research. The main castle was entered over a bridge crossing a dry moat, with courtyards and ruined structures inside, together with gardens, statues and resident peacocks.

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It has 11 towers, the most important being the Keep which was the strongest built to withstand heavy attack, the ramparts link the towers and provide a walkway that look out over a tremendous view of the city below.

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Walking around the streets we saw a really colourful, tiled underpass plus lots of the usual graffiti on the sides of building, disused walls and fences, together with some really fantastic street art. It was lovely to admire the pictures and marvel at how they are created on such a large scale.

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Several parks were dotted around the city, we saw some from the bus and some on foot; a big emphasis is placed on relaxation with green space and city squares have numerous benches, fountains, lakes and exercise options. The campsite we were staying at was within a vast hillside covered with trees and termed as the ‘lungs of the city’.

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A boat ride was also in the price of our Yellow Bus ticket so we got aboard for an afternoon trip along the River Tagus passing right under a suspension bridge from Lisbon to the south bank in Almada. It is called the Ponte 25 de Abril, inaugurated in 1966 but re-named to commemorate the independence of Portugal in 1974. It is 1.4 miles long (2,277 meters) and an average of nearly 230 feet high (70 meters). There is a six lane road on the top and a double track railway line below, built in a similar style and colour of San Francisco’s famous bridge, with a statue of Cristo Rei looking down from his column on the south bank.

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Passing the old Power Station built of industrial red brick, it was renovated and now houses the Electric Museum. Close by are the industrial docks with the huge cranes unloading large numbers of containers on a daily basis and the very different modern MAAT building housing the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.

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My two favourite memories of Lisbon were getting closer now, firstly the rugged beauty of the old Torre de Belém in the afternoon sunshine, its fortifications now being a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The river is tidal at this point and it was wonderful to see the tower surrounded by water, built between 1514 and 1520 of beige white limestone with a bastion and 4 storey tower standing at 98.4 feet (30 meters).

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The magnificent monument of Padrão dos Descobrimentos is my favourite. It is the Monument of Discoveries and celebrates the Portuguese Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. It looks so new because of the pale colour and freshness of the carvings, but was in fact inaugurated 1960 with 32 ships of 14 nations in attendance on the river. Built of steel, cement and pink coloured stone it shows the early navigators, 33 statues all made from limestone, standing on the prow of a sailing boat, in total it stands 171 feet high (52 meters). My memory of it did not disappoint me and I was so pleased to have seen it again with adult eyes and appreciation.

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On a separate day we walked alongside the river so we could visit these two famous icons of Lisbon. The Torre de Belém is reached over a foot bridge and then over a draw bridge into a large internal area with nature motifs and coats of arms, window apertures and small canons pointing towards the river. The tower had an underground area with no widows or light formally used as a prison, it must have been awful to be incarcerated in the dark and damp. Up on the hexagonal bastion terrace, the Moorish bartizan turrets looked picturesque with windows framing the views of the river, monuments and bridge in the distance.

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The Monument of Discoveries was equally impressive close up with different figures standing in line on either side of the sail with Henry the Navigator in the front of the prow. There is a lift to take people up to the top of the monument and it is just possible to see people on my photograph. Having been up the previous tower, we didn’t go up the monument, but maybe another time!

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I treated myself to an electric scooter ride between the monuments which was brilliant. It was very bumpy due to the Portuguese black and white paving which consists of small squares of stone, looks fantastic but is not laid completely flat. The scooter could go quite fast, with a forward and break tab controlled by your thumbs plus a break on the back wheel which you could step on. Obviously the speed I went ruined my hair!!

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Going back into the centre in the huge Plaza Chris had spotted a Museu a Cerveja, a beer museum! It was actually really well done, interesting displays and notes through history of how the brewing industry developed, alongside and in competition to wine in Portugal. The entry price included a glass of beer to accompany us as we looked at the information. One of the kiosks was a smaller version of a brewing copper, while above the bar was a display of glasses, double layered with an inverted bottle shape inside and an air space between to keep the beer at optimum temperature.

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Our last day in Lisbon was grey and quite wet, unfortunate because we were taking another open top bus ride to see the modern area of the city. There was a different kind of beauty between the contrast of the old style of buildings with stone and colourful tiling, and the new materials of concrete and modern reflective windows. Tiling is still greatly used and to great effect, decorating large expanses of wall space and making the area very striking.

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I liked the modern buildings especially The Vasco da Gama Tower built to resemble a ship it was an observation tower with panoramic elevators, it stands at 466 feet high (142 meters) however, now it is now a hotel. Also the visually amazing Estação do Orient which is a station designed in steel and glass to recalling to mind many things; a cathedral, trees in a forest or ocean waves, it was certainly very stylish.

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There was so much to do and see in Lisbon and we managed to cover quite a lot, there is so much more that we could easily return in the future and spend more time exploring. Now for a long rest in the Portuguese countryside and relaxing on the Algarve somewhere.

Posted in Portugal

2nd November – Coimbra, Portugal

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Cold temperatures, wind and rain made the decision to leave northern Spain easy in the hope of chasing up some warmer weather. It was my birthday and I thought a drive over the border into Portugal would be a good way to spend part of the day, another new country to explore as we move further south. As we neared the border one of the first things we noticed was how many more trees there were, forests on the horizon and lots of trees in the fields, oaks and pine predominantly with numerous cattle of all different colours and breeds. Eucalyptus was especially dominant in rocky ravines and poorer areas, fires had ravaged miles of woodland leaving blackened skeletons reaching to the sky. Regeneration was very much in evidence with new growth of the young, silver leaves of the eucalyptus erupting like an understorey around the lifeless forest, with loggers taking away the corpses, chopped up and piled high on huge lorries.
For the last hour I was directed by our ever helpful Satnav towards Coimbra, leaving comfortable wide roads and taking a small road, winding with the contours of a steep sided valley, the River Mondego glistening far below! Thinking this was a short stretch I continued the drive, admiring the scenery when possible and waiting to get off onto something that made me less tense. I noticed bus stops and one or two shops so I realised lorries also used this road but was nonetheless fairly relieved to come under a bridge onto an island of a large main road. It had taken over 45 minutes driving at only 20-30 mph and I was so pleased the campsite was less than 5 minutes away, out of town on a hill. When I checked the map, it was indeed the most direct route although I would have preferred a longer route on better roads, but Satnav knows our measurements and decided the road was ok! Settling down with a cup of tea overlooking the landscape soon revived me while we planned a bus trip into Coimbra.

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Disappoingly the following day was dull, grey and quite chilly. The bus didn’t take long to get into the city which straddles both sides of the River Mondego.  Coimbra was Portugal’s capital from 1131 to 1255, a lovely Medieval town with a famous university dating from 1290, one of the oldest in the world. Around a central courtyard there was a Royal Palace, a Royal Chapel of St Michael with columns and a large Library building.

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We followed a walk from a tourist map up and down the very hilly location, ancient buildings of sandstone and tall colourful painted buildings side by side in a central square. The old Cathedral had a castle like appearance at the top, huge doors and numerous decorative features.

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Walking all over the city lead us to a place to have a birthday lunch, (a day later), where we chose what were called racciones, or small plates. Having a selection from the menu incuded beef in cheese sauce, black pork with shiitake mushrooms, saltcod fritters and a tomato and mozzarella salad, with a very nice red wine, all very good and worth waiting for.

The steep hills gave a great vantage point to look down on the river below, admiring an elegant suspension bridge, Ponte Rainha Santa Isabel that is 1,079 feet long (329 meters) was constructed in 2003, and a slender foot bridge the Sante Pedro e Inés, from two areas of parkland which was opened in 2007. A large fountain was situated in the river which I found unusual but it looked pretty even on a dull day.

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We decided to move on again and as our next destination was going to have lots to see we planned to stay for several days. I will be covering it all in a separate blog …….

Posted in Spain

30th October – Sprint across Spain

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Leaving France using our favourite scenic roads, we crossed the border into Spain at some un-identified place and after driving through villages and farmland we started climbing steadily uphill through the Pyrenees. Through the green valleys and dense woodland on the lower slopes, the twisting road meandered ever higher until we saw snow lying by the roadside and highlighting the tree trunks. The snow capped peaks looked beautiful in the distance, blue sky fading rapidly being replaced with grey cloud and the temperature was 1°.

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Arriving in Logroño was exciting because I was meeting a Spanish lady I have been writing to for few months. But first although it was bitterly cold we decided to walk around the city to see it in daylight and made our way to the central plaza surrounded by tall colourful buildings and the grand cathedral. However as it was closed until the evening, coming back later when it was lit up, we met up with Carmen and José Antonio who showed us the inside with interesting features including a sparkling chandelier and golden doorway. Chatting in a mix of our basic Spanish and some English we looked around some of the city and then went to Calle Laurel which is a wonderful area of tapas bars and restaurants in old town Logroño. We had some great authentic food and spent 3 hours chatting together before they took us back to Bessie in their car. It was fantastic evening and also great to try speaking Spanish with my email-friend Carmen.

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Moving on early next morning, I drove 4 hours south west to Salamanca which is 230 miles (370 km) west of Madrid in the Castile and León region. We hoped to find warmer weather to explore the historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, that is known for its golden sandstone architecture. We took a local bus into Salamanca and immediately made our way to the Plaza Mayor in the heart of the city which dates from the 18th century. The beautiful Baroque styled plaza is the largest in Spain with a portico surrounding the plaza and many restaurants spilling out on edges. Centrally positioned on one side is the elegant City Hall having five archways, numerous columns and carvings over the next two levels and topped with balustrades and bells.

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Salamanca has one of Spain’s most important universities and has been a place of teaching since 1130. The building has a magnificent façade constructed with the golden stone columns and carved heraldry, two elaborate, dome topped towers with a bell wall crowned with statues.

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Immediately in front of it is the Casa de las Conchas or House of Shells, a well known palace of Gothic architecture built late 15th, early 16th century. Built by Maldonado the building is decorated with shells which were used to symbolise the love for his wife and The Order of Santiago which he belonged to.

Salamanca city has not one, but two Cathedrals blended seamlessly together and a Bell Tower all on one site. The Old Cathedral in Romanesque style and later the New Cathedral that grew out of the older building in the new gothic, baroque and renaissance styles, together forming a really wonderful place for worship.

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The Old Cathedral has a lower tiled roof line and a tower with conical stone roof, overlooked by the towering dome of the New Cathedral, it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

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We were able to go up the huge square Bell Tower situated at the opposite end of the Cathedrals. From this tower you could walk along part of the roof between the two Cathedrals and also onto the tower terrace giving unrivalled views over the surrounding town and countryside.

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From inside the Bell Tower standing 328 feet tall (100 meters), part of the way up it was possible to walk along the short end of Nave on an original, elevated stone walkway giving a completely different viewpoint of the New Cathedral’s beautiful architecture. As usual my nerves got the better of me and I had to come down leaving Chris to go up the tower and see the clock room with original mechanism and the bells.

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Another of the most beautiful buildings is the church of San Estaeban (Saint Stephen) with its highly decorated stone tapestry on its front façade. The central arched door is dwarfed by the stone archway above with three levels of elaborate carvings in plasteresque style, including figures and heraldry with towers and turrets topped by a single bell. It was started in 1524 and finally finished in 1610 and I think it is a masterpiece of craftsmanship.

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Walking around this lovely city with so many different and beautiful buildings all in very close proximity was really fantastic and thoroughly recommended. A walk down the cobbled street towards the river lead us to the old Roman bridge which dates from 1st century and spans the River Tormes. It is featured on the city’s coat of Arms and was still used as the single point of access into the city until the beginning of the 20th century carrying heavy traffic over its length of nearly 1,178 feet (359 meters). From the far side there was a cars to the river itself and afforded lovely views back towards the city.

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Staying until darkness fell we enjoyed tapas on Plaza Mayor so we could see the city all lit up against the inky black sky, it really looked magical.

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Posted in France, Spain

27th October – Final French stopovers

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For our last couple of days in France we took the rural roads again leaving the Bordeaux area and headed once more for the coast.  Passing through thousands of acres of pine forest with massive stands of tall trees, interspersed with young pine trees all stages of growth and large areas of harvested forest. At Parentis en Born we walked down to the lake which had a lovely recreational area with boats, beaches and walking trails.

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Driving to St Jean de Luz in pouring rain we settled in to wait for an opportunity to go for a walk. Hail battered the roof and windows, strong winds blew leaves and sticks from the trees while the leaden sky unleashed torrential and noisy rain while we sat inside staring out of the windows. Eventually after several hours the rain stopped, and looking like a pair of ‘mummies’ wrapped up against the wind and rain we headed for the beach. The clouds parted for a brief glimpse of the sun and showed a lovely rays of light shining somewhere towards Spain.

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This has been our first trip into France in a motorhome, we have found it very easy to travel around, never using the motorways or toll roads, only travelling on a combination of dual carriageways and local roads, including some off the beaten track kind of roads only as wide as Bessie!

The French countryside was a real surprise, smaller fields with areas left for wildlife and not endlessly in cultivation for food production. It was noticable the numbers of of small birds feeding on the ground and on seedheads of weeds, there were plenty of trees and bushes on land too sloping for cultivation, and old, abandoned buildings for wildlife to access. Across larger areas by the sides of the dual carriageway, there were the vast areas dedicated to barley and wheat and maize, but these tended to be featureless landscapes now devoid of crops with stubble stretching for miles.

As we approached several towns and villages we saw avenues of plane trees still in leaf with their trunks looking mottled having peeled bark showing dark and light patches. The bright yellow of trees glowing brightly even on a dull day, and many glorious reds of what look like a kind of maple.

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We loved the hillsides with small stone buildings and farms, the typical French style houses having windows in the roofline, the small quaint villages always with a decorative church and people having coffee outside whatever the weather!  We did a lot of walking and in three weeks I covered just over 100 miles (160 km), I am so pleased to be keeping fit in such an enjoyable way.

I’m also quite sure we will return to France soon, in another area at a different time of year with so much more to see and new experiences to be enjoyed.

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Posted in France

26th October – Bordeaux

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On a quite a cold and dull grey day we caught the bus  from the campsite Crėon into Bordeaux, 13 miles away (21km); being driven for a change was nice and left me free to look around. Arriving beside the River La Garrone we set off across the Pont de Pierre spanning the River Gironde with several church spires, imposing looking buildings and a massive fun fair all in view as the city was spread out left and right along the banks of the toffee coloured river. Locating the tourist office we soon found a walking tour map of the ‘sights to see’.

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Along the waterfront we looked at the Miroir d’Eau which is the largest water mirror in the world at 3,773 square yards (3,450 square meters). The water is approximately 1 inch (2.5cm) deep on a dark background and reflects the Place de la Bourse which houses a stock exchange and discovery centre for the city’s history.

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The next significant building was the wonderful Grand Theatre with a columned portico with 12 stone statues. Inside the fabulous staircase lead up between low walls with twisted balustrade carved into the stone, dividing halfway up and leading around onto the landings with more columns and elaborate walls and ceilings. The central dome let light flood in and was also highly decorated but very difficult to photograph. The room above the entrance door had 3 huge chandeliers visible from the staircase but it was not open to the public.

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The Monument aux Girondines, built between 1895-1901, is a tribute to the inhabitants of Girande lost in the French Revolution, Liberty Breaking its Chains depicted proudly at the top of the 141 ft (43m). I loved the seahorses with fish tails, two with fins for hooves and two with claws, very strange!

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Walking around we were impressed by the number of trams and bendy busses available, there were few cars in the centre, added to that there were loads of electric bikes and scooters for hire. It was quite traffic free and really very quiet for a city centre. We did spot a car park with a green jaguar exiting the wall several floors up, luckily it was deliberate and was quite a photo opportunity.

 


In pride of place is the Cathedral Saint André, in 1096 it was dedicated by Urban II and was Romanesque but now the style is Gothic. The high door had numerous carved figures surrounding the arched top , higher up is a beautiful round window with an intricate pattern of stonework, above which it is topped with twin spires in elaborate detail.

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The inside of the cathedral was huge and light with arched ceilings, an elaborate pulpit and a huge organ spanning the width of the nave.

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Outside the separate Bell Tower was completed in 1500 and stands 164 feet tall (50m) with a statue of the Madonna and Child added 12 years later in copper and later gilded in 2002.

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The city has several gates but the most elaborate was the Grosse Cliche, a historic town Belfry and the only remains of the old defensive gate of the 13th century and was previously used as a prison. The bell was cast in 1775 and weighs 7.8 tons (7,800kg), it rings on the first Sunday of each month and 6 times a year on special occasions. On the central domed top is a golden lion weather vane which is a symbol of the Kings of England.

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Returning on the punctual, warm bus we could relax again as we started to  plan the next few days for our drive over the border into Spain.