Posted in Spain

7th – 11th February, Jerez & Cadiz

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After the hustle and bustle of Gibraltar, we headed out in a westerly direction quickly leaving all the built up areas behind and were soon seeing more changes in the landscape. The hills were more undulating and everything was so much greener, we even started to see cattle and sheep which we never saw in eastern Spain. Stretching into the distance the far distant hill looked blue above the fields, now occasionally we saw beautiful brown cattle and small herds of long legged sheep. The Autovia is seldom busy so I have plenty of time to gaze about, the fluffy clouds looked beautiful in the sunshine, we pass weird road signs and at one point, had to stop on a slip road leaving the Autovia for road works. It would never happen in the UK where the traffic backs up onto our motorway while a workman sits on the barriers, no Health & Safety or road cones here, eventually I drove over the rubble and carried on.

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Travelling west for 75 miles (120 km) we got to Conil de la Frontera, a well appointed site with large sunny pitches, just a short walk away was miles of wide sandy beaches and the town centre. Pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed with Trudy and David who we had met on a previous site, lots of chatting, swapping notes, hints and tips and a good laugh together, and then Chris and I enjoyed the Quiz Night in the bar and his team came 3rd with a small money prize too!

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Using a hire car we visited Jarez about an hour away to see the Foundation of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and the beautiful horses. Entering through the main gates of the Recreo de Las Cadenas Palace, the semi circle entrance has a gatehouse at either side decorated with chains which give the Palace its name, Palace of the Chains. Beautiful gardens with a high fountain, exotic plants and trees stretches up to the front of the Palace.

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To the left is the Picadero (indoor arena) built in traditional Andalusian style with the deep yellow colours of the area combined with white similar to the regional houses. Outside are the stables looking out over the exercise with training rings and in one corner is a ‘horse walker’. This is a large circular area with a central pole holding five large gates, surrounded by fencing. Horses are exercised, five at a time with one between each gate, the centre rotates mechanically, keeping the horses walking, changing direction after 5 minutes or so.

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The Picadero can seat 1,600 spectators and it was here we watched the white stallions perform their equestrian ballet to classical Spanish music with the riders in 18th century costumes of grey, black and white. A single horse entered first and the rider demonstrated many skills based on cattle herding including pirouettes, changes of rhythm from standing to a gallop in seconds. We also saw very complex movements based on classical dressage where 10 horses and riders showed their skills, control and hours of training while they criss-crossed the arena, weaving in between each other and constantly changing direction. Horses also showed how they could obey commands when being worked ‘in-hand’ with various movements including, trotting on the spot, rearing on command and huge leaps into the air. Carriage driving was also demonstrated with two teams of four horses harnessed to carriages performing twists and tight turns together. It was very good watching the highly trained horses and riders, I just wish we had been allowed to take photographs but sadly not. I did get a few outside the arena before it started while they were training and afterwards while they cooled the carriage horses down.

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After watching the horses, we looked at the harness rooms where there were displays of harness and tools used for making it, craftsmen were there to demonstrate their skills.

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A few rooms were open at the palace which was designed by the architect Charles Garnier, he also designed the Paris Opera House. The entrance hall had a smart black and white tiled floor and curved marble staircase with ornate wrought iron work balustrade, there were only three rooms being displayed, with high and very detailed painted ceilings, decorative doors and mouldings and fine chandeliers.

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Walking through the streets later on, we located Jarez Cathedral up two flights of steps with bricks set in a herringbone pattern. The front was beautifully symmetrical in appearance with two towers positioned close together, the central large main door edged with elaborate carving each side had a four sectioned window edged in blue above. Two round windows on either side above additional doors had stone arches above at roof height with turrets on top of the towers.

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Inside was beautiful with lovely feature architecture in the nave and transepts, the feature stonework being slightly darker than the mortar between creating an unusuail and pleasing subtle tone throughout the cathedral. The nave had a lovely circular dome letting in light and there were elaborate columns with much carving and detail beneath, high arches supporting the vaulted ceiling led to the main altar with decorative stained glass window above.

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We took a coach trip to Cadiz to see the costumes of people dressing up for the Carnival and experience the buzz of excitement surrounding it. Thousands of people came from a huge area, it was so colourful with whole families and groups enjoying themselves with music and picnics or meals in the bars. Situated next to the sea enabled us to walk along the sea wall where loads of people were soaking up the sun and having a break from the clouds, it was quite picturesque with the sea sparkling below a and the beaches in the distance. We never got to see the main parade but still enjoyed our experience.

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Walking back to the coach park, we could admire the long elegant bridge called La Pepa Bridge crosses the Bay of Cadiz from Cadiz to Puerto Real. It has two vertical pylons 180 meters tall and the road is 69 meters from the surface of the water, it carries 40,000 vehicles per day over a distance of 5 km. As the darkness began to fall, so the colours of the sky and waters changed, and lights appearing on the bridge added the finishing touches to a lovely day.

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Posted in Spain

2nd – 6th February, West towards Gibraltar

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Leaving all we have experienced behind us, we moved into unknown territory as we travelled west using the Autovia to quickly skirt Malaga and Marbella. As we travelled west the countryside began to change, the hills became less craggy and more undulating like a carpet of cloth dropped into gentle folds. Colours also changed, no doubt benefiting from more rain; green made much more of an impact with grass becoming more apparent and even a few fields appeared on the slopes of the hills. There were few olive trees around now, more mixed woodland in small groups, gorse and a rough scrub of bushes on the poor and stony soils.

Mandie and Mal, our friends from Salisbury, moved to La Duquesa nearly two years ago and we had arranged to meet up with each other. A wonderful free parking area (on Park4Night.com), close to the sea wall and beach made an excellent camping stop for a couple of nights. We could wake up to watch the skies changing colour and the yellow legged gulls, sandwich terns and a lonely grey plover walking of over the rocks in front of us.

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Making our way along the promenade to a small marina we sipped a cooling beer in the sunshine and shelter of a bar while watching the ‘boats-a-bobbing’ on the water.

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Later that evening our time was taken with a good gossip, catching up with each other’s lives over a drink or two, before moving to a bar with music, more drinks and dancing ‘til late, and a good time was had by all. After lunch next day and hearing more about life in Spain, it was time for goodbyes, but we’ll return again in the future.

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Gibraltar was only a short drive away and we could stop overnight on a marina with many other motorhomes for just €12 a night, and waking up to lovely views of numerous yachts.

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Gibraltar is home to 30,000 people, its 426 meters high at the highest point and is only 2.5 square miles in area mainly made up of limestone. We took a taxi minibus trip up ‘the rock’ to see the views, the apes, the spectacular cave and an interesting tunnel museum.

20180206_094816.jpgThe day was clear, blue skies with fluffy white clouds making it ideal to see the panoramic views of the Spanish coastline and the mountains of Morocco only 24 kilometers away. From higher up with clear views of the airport runway that we had crossed to get ‘onto the rock’, we saw one old plane, some sports grounds and a large graveyard – the airport noise won’t disturb them!

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Panoramic photo from high up so the runway appears curved which of course it isn’t!

Further up we stopped at the Pillar of Hercules, this is the name given to the promontories between Spain and Morocco. In the north is the Rock of Gibraltar and in the south there is Calpe Mons, there is a sculpture that has been built with two pillars with a world map between them. It was incredibly windy with such great views, but a really ‘bad hair day’.

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Being driven higher up a single width, rough tarmac road, the views get even better and the steep sides are becoming more and more nerve wracking. I can hardly bear it when our driver stops to point something out, I’m holding on and leaning in towards the rock edges as if it makes me any safer!
Thankfully we reached the next point to get out and walked into the most stunning caves I have ever seen, even better than the last ones in Nerja. The spectacular St Michael’s Cave, which is in fact a series of many linked caves, was in Victorian times used for recreation with concerts, picnics and parties taking place. Archaeology experts found evidence of human activity from historic times including axes, arrow heads and pottery. It was also prepared for use as a hospital in World War II but it was never used for this purpose. The caves are so high and there were numerous intricate formations with so much detail that they looked like they had been carved. Soft music and a light show made a real spectacle of the massive shapes and cast shadows too making the details all the more fascinating. These photos do not do it justice, but I cannot load my video which shows it in more a more subtle way.

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Progressing still higher up the super scary road, along a ridge with huge drops either side, I couldn’t believe it when the driver switched off the engine, thankfully he left the vehicle in gear – I was desperate to get out.  Of course people come to this great rock to see the Barbary Apes that live here in five separate troops. They have no fear of people who photograph them every day, however, you are advised not to carry any food. We saw one man have his sunglasses snatched, but being inedible, they were soon retrieved.

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Our last port of call was the Great Seige Tunnels which are located high up inside the ‘Rock’.  Passages we dug by hand out of the limestone using no more than long iron chisels, which were struck and rotated after each blow causing the chisel to break into and follow the natural strata of the rock. The tunnels are as solid and secure as when they were constructed 200 years ago. Such hot and dusty work nearly made the men suffocated so tunnels were made to the outside walls to let fresh air in. They soon realised that these holes made excellent positions for canons to fire on the enemy and rope screens were hung in front of the canon to stop dust and debris coming back in again.

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Descending to ground level and back on our feet we had a quick look around the town itself, saw a nice church perched on the edge of a road, British telephone and post boxes and loads of duty free goods.

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Not interested in shopping we treated ourselves to a Morrocan chicken tagine with a glass of wine in a pub full of interesting historic items. Returning to Bessie for the night it was very strange to have to walk across the airport runway without an official in sight. There was a beautiful sunset at the end of a lovely, but cold and windy day. We really had a good day on Gibralter and saw some amazing sights.

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Posted in Spain

25th Jan -1st February, Onward to Nerja

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Stopping for a few days at a very pretty and green oasis in Castillo de Baños, we enjoyed the homely and atmosphere of this beachside location. Some trees in leaf, some bare letting the sun in, flowers around the pitches and good facilities. It was incredibly windy and the sea thundered onto the rocks below the site. It was possible to have a pitch looking straight out to sea but the strong winds would have pummelled into Bessie and I wouldn’t have had a wink of sleep. We had a more sheltered location a few yards back and enjoyed quieter nights although we could hear the sea crashing every night. We walked in each direction, the village had a promenade, a little white chuch overlooking the sea, had free tapas in various bars and consequently needed no evening meal on two occasions! There were some beautiful sunsets over the hills behind and the dramatic clouds enhanced them considerably.

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Moving on and after an uneventful drive across the south coast of Spain, we tried to avoid continually commenting about the ‘endless plastic landscape’ that are the greenhouses producing our cheap food.  How wonderful it was to arrive back in Nerja, this is a pretty coastal town with the Balcon de Europa jutting out towards the Mediterranean giving wide views of the beaches and mountains behind. The winds were very strong and the palm-lined Balcon was taking a battering, a few hardly souls struggled into the wind to take photos and dashed back to the relative shelter between the buildings. There are now resident Monk Parakeets in the palm trees and they can easily be heard and seen while rearranging their nesting material or occasionally flying around.

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Took Bessie up to Frigiliana for a morning, the ‘picture postcard’ village is high up in the hills, and as it is winter there was plenty of space to turn and park alongside the lower road. Unfortunately the sky was grey, not cold but not good for taking photographs, too much white sky!

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The village is full of cobbled streets, very narrow and with many steps so our legs got a good workout. We watched two mules carrying building materials, (crossbred horse and donkey), they are the only way of transporting things around these streets as they are strong, fit between the buildings and crucially can climb steps!

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Shop owners spill their goods out into the street, in corners and along railings making it a colourful and interesting place to wonder around, which we did for a few hours. Many restaurants and bars all have terraces overlooking the tremendous views over the rooftops of the rest of the village, down the valley all the way to the sea in the distance. Frigiliana really is a perfect example of a ‘pueblo blanco or white village.

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On a beautiful sunny day we enjoyed an hour long walk started on Burriana beach, up steep steps at the eastern end, followed the track and then continued past the Capistrano Urbanization and uphill to the road. We turned right and followed the directions up to the Caves of Nerja noting the abandoned brick building of the sugar mill, peering into the greenhouses at cucumbers and tomatoes, passing a field of huge cauliflowers, and others with potatoes and broad beans. The caves were found by a local group of friends who discovered them in 1959 when they went through a narrow opening. During the exploration of the caves human skeletons were found as some places in the within the caves were used as burial chambers. One of the skeletons plus other artifacts are on display at the Nerja Museum. The caverns were inhabited until the Bronze Age and occupied seasonally by both humans and cave hyenas, many animal and fish bones, seeds, nuts and snails were found together with primitive tools. Cave paintings in a part of the cave not on show to the general public show farming was taking place at the time of occupation.

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There are two main caverns to be seen and the temperature inside the cave system is a steady 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) and dry, quite unlike the caves I have been inside in the UK which are cold wet places, this made our time inside a pleasant and unhurried experience. We were accompanied by a guide but in addition each person had an audio device and as we arrived at various formations, our he activated the relevant section of information. The formations inside were so numerous, huge curtains with many folds draped from the roof, stalactites and stalagmites were everywhere with many that had joined to form columns. The main cavern is called The Hall of Cataclysm and is 100 meters long with a colossal central, multi facetted formation over 32 meters high and 13 x 7 meters at the base, the largest in the world. Earthquakes many thousands of years ago destroyed some of the formations which lie haphazardly broken on the floor, and such is the time scale that has passed by, new stalagmites have been formed again.

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We walked back downhill visiting the village of Maro for lunch at a bar overlooking the hillside to the sea. This small village has an attractive white church, bouganvilla covered pergola on its balcon, small bars and restaurants and quiet streets to wonder around.

 

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20180202_214622.jpgBack on our free, seafront location next morning, from the comfort of our sofa we could watch the sunrise, it was quite beautiful as it rose right between the palm trees.

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Our time in beautiful Nerja was enhanced by meeting up with Malcolm on a couple of occasions, sadly not seeing Jacqui who was busy with family back in England. We tried a couple of different tapas bars on our last night with Nick and Steph also joining us, a happy little band of five Brits chatting and laughing together for a few hours, eating our way through several delicious tapas and drinking the local vino and cerveza, and very good they are too!

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Posted in Spain

16th – 24th January, Almansa Area and Águilas

From our campsite in Bolnuevo near Puerto de Mazarron we had hired the car for a whole week and travelled far and wide. On one trip this amounted to around 130 miles round trip! We went nearly as far north as Santa Pola, but miles inland at a place called Blanca where we met up with Jess and Martin again, having last seen them in December. The countryside on the journey was varied, the fields of silver leaved artichokes and dark green broccoli plants, some early flowering fruit trees brightened the stony, pale soils and rocks. Mountains appeared misty with the distance and the Autovia stretched away in front like a long grey snake. Meeting up together and after a welcome coffee and tortilla, with their local knowledge, we set off their car to explore the Castile-La Mancha area in the Murcia region. It was a further hour north; a triangle around Yecla, Almansa, having lunch at Corral-Rubio and then on to Petrola before heading back to Blanca to go our separate ways again. (For location purposes this area is inland on the same latitudes as Denia and Benidorm).

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We all like bird watching and were on the lookout for some special birds they wanted to show us. We travelled miles around this location, some on small roads and also off road on tracks where we saw a group of 33 Great Bustards feeding on farmland and blending into the landscape. The males are big birds at around 35-40 inches long from beak to tail, with a wing span of over 7 feet and weighing between 17-35 lbs, they are they are recognised as the heaviest flying bird. We were lucky to see 7 of these huge birds flying to join the others, and in so doing we noticed they were with 33 common cranes, all feeding together in damp, rough scrubland, what a great start.

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Image from Google:  Great Bustard

The most beautiful and scarce bird was a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse which Martin spotted as we were driving along, although I don’t know how! They really are there in the photo, those dark dots on the field!

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We were lucky as all 13 birds were males having bright markings that look ‘painted’ in their intricacy. With terracotta coloured breast patch edged in black, a white belly, the wings are golden green with narrow black markings and the eyes have a line behind looking just like eye-liner! It was a fabulous day enabling us to see some of the real Spanish countryside, small farms, acres of vines and almond trees with small bits of blossom already visible. We had lunch in an authentic Spanish restaurant and managed to add 10 new birds to our Spanish list, including 7 new species for us, thanks to our wonderful guides!

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Image from Google:  Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Another trip out was to Mar Menor about an hour away, stopping off at Calbranque for a walk on the dunes, it was sunny and warm and we saw some hardy, short stemmed plants already flowering. The beach was almost deserted with the hillside and rocks coming right down to fine clean sand and the sea sparkled in the sun with a light breeze to ruffle the wave tops.

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Calbranque

The Mar Menor itself was disappointing being nothing but a built up strip of high rise hotels and restaurants with many motorhomes on free parking sites among the buildings, and it was not what we wanted. There were a few salinas on the approach which had a few spoonbills, egrets and gulls but we soon bid a hasty retreat. Closer to camp we had some fun with a bit of off-roading in the Renault Modus and spent a happy few hours bimbling around on tracks between the fields of vegetables, darting around any damp looking patches on the single width tracks to avoid getting stuck. We were lucky to spot a wonderful Iberian Grey Strike and several Red Legged Partridges as well as Jackdaws and Tree Sparrows.
Our final day with the car enabled us to go to Águilas with Gilly and Alan who made excellent personal guides having been there many years before. The harbour glittered in the sun with many boats bobbing on the water and gulls wheeling overhead. A typical Spanish windmill complete with 8 small net sails graced the skyline above the old town houses. When we reached its lofty position we had tremendous views over the harbour, through the crystal clear water you could see the areas of seaweed or rocks under the surface in the bay beyond.

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We walked the length of the largely deserted beach with its palm trees and fine sand, cleaned and harrowed by tractors to keep looking its best, and a promenade alongside stretched into the distance. Looking at the old houses, many bought and tastefully renovated, some were empty shells and then there were more modern blocks all with views over the beach.  Visiting a small church the inside was cool and calm with many statues and fine paintings, but for us it was the entrance door that really stood out, with a huge panel of stained glass, from inside looking towards it with the sunshine behind it was a real work of art.

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Around the town radiating out from tree shaded plazas were beautifully painted steps, all different designs and painted to be viewed from the bottom up. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to get the perspective right without having to run up and down to check if the progress and alignment looks correct, the effects were amazing and so colourful.

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This is a set of stairs, see the lady in pink half way up?

At the far end of the Águilas town is a high metal pier sticking out to sea, topped by a railway that once served the mineral mines. It carried the iron ore from the mines to the coast where it could be shipped to various destinations, other goods such as marble and esparto grass used in rope making and many passengers also used this busy port. Close to the harbour is an old locomotive built in Glasgow in 1889 which was assembled by the British Rail Company and was in service from 1890 to 1967, it now stands as a monument to the past.

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Also at this end of the town there is the lifetime’s work of Juan Martinez Causco, starting in 1985 he made beautiful mosaics from pieces of coloured china and pottery. There is a beautifully curved stairway leading up past a bar restaurant all decorated in a multitude of colours, passing on up more steps with obelisks and benches. At the top of a wearying climb uphill we found the gardens which held some of his last works, sadly looking a bit neglected at present. There was some fine work here including a memorial to the artist who died around 2001. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind in his town.

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Memorial to Juan Martinez Causco

After returning the car and we relaxed for a few days on the beach, some hardy people actually swimming but I preferred my lounger. Also walking along the rocky paths and up into the hills, listening to the birds and found several abandoned bees nests in low, long dead vegetation. There was a section of sandstone solitary or mining bees were excavating nest holes in, much activity and the noise drew my attention so we watched for a while. Further along the coast there was much more of the honey coloured sandstone, sculpted by the elements and rough to the touch, however easy to crumble the top layer with your fingers.20180126_180156.jpg

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After a fortnight in one campsite it was time to move on, but first Chris made a wonderful paella for us which we ate outside alfresco in January! Such a good time here with plenty to see and do, so many interesting things to occupy us.

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Posted in Spain

8th – 15th January, Picking up where we left off ….

 

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Happy New Year everyone!  Time to get going again …

After a wonderful Christmas break for a month back in England, it was now time to fly out to Alicante to collect Bessie from her secure storage.  Having been well looked after and locked up inside, hooked up to electricity for the whole time, and having had a wash and brush up, she looked ready to go and so were we.  If anyone is looking for store a vehicle and here is the website:  (www.chrisparking.com)  Stocking up the fridge again at a large Mercadona supermarket enroute to Santa Pola, we were soon back on the pitch opposite the one we left in December!

It was certainly warmer than England, not hot, but very pleasant and no need for a coat by lunchtime for a stroll down the promenade to the beach. As it was Tuesday, Chris just had to have some pinchos again, effectively tapas on a stick for just 99 cents and beer at 99 cents, the best offer on Tuesdays! This time we were more sensible and shared each one, and our bill was half as big at the end.  We didn’t do much really except relax, walk, admire the boats in the harbour and watch the fishing boats coming in with their catch to be unloaded and sold off.

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We climbed high above the town another day to look at the The Escaletes Watch Tower. It was built to monitor the shipping, especially any boat that might hide nearby the island of New Tabarca, then signals would be sent to warn the island of possible enemies close by.

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After four days we moved south to Bolnuevo on the coast near Mazarron.  We met Gilly and Alan at Santa Pola in November and they were already at Bolnuevo with their Bessacarr so we would be able to meet up again. It is very friendly here and only a short walk onto the beach, at this time of year there are few people on it which is lovely. Bolnuevo itself has some restaurants and a few useful shops, and in the other direction is the Puerta de Mazarron with its harbour and larger commercial centre.

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A walk along the beach lead us to some fantastic natural sand sculptures, shaped by water and wind over thousands of years.  The shapes of the individual columns were all different and the main rock face was heavily sculpted which showed up well with the shadows giving emphasis to the shapes.  They really are spectacular and on the day we saw them, the sun was bright and the rocks literally glowed against the bright blue sky.

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There was a wonderful sunset that evening that I just wanted to share with you.

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We decided to stay here for a couple of weeks to be in one place for a change, a new thing for us! In light of this we put up our awning, so we now have extra space outside for chairs and table if we want to eat outside.  As we are now ‘shackled’ to the pitch, we hired a car for a week so that we could explore a little further afield.

With the freedom the car allowed, we were soon out on the road, up into the Sierra Espuña, a vast area of wild countryside and mountains only 35 miles from the coast. It was beautiful and the roads mainly deserted, the scenery was varied with fields of lettice, young brocolli and artichokes, almond groves with their trunks nearly black against the earth, pine trees, rocks and small tracks disappearing into the sparse vegetation.

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We passed a beautiful almond tree on the side of the road, already in full flower, the scent was sweet and the buzzing of the bees made me think of summer.

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Making our way to Aledo high in the hills, we arrived in the remote village and found a pretty church in a small square at the top of the hill which glowed in the sun. The land around spread out in all directions and we could see what a huge food growing area it is with greenhouses and netted tents covering the fruit trees.

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There was a tower standing on the highest point of the village, it is 22.5 meters high and originally had wall surrounding it to make a strong fortress. Dating from the Middle Ages it was constructed with a type of cement made from mud, stones, wood and mortar left to set between wood boards.

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The tower stands on top of the fossilized remains of a coral reef that is preserved at the base of the tower. It all the more amazing when you look out over the views and realise that it was all under a deep sea many millions of years ago.

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As we went higher we saw a mountain that had snow on its slopes which looked amazing in the sunshine with the pine trees contrasting against the bare slopes.

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I had been so engrosed with the fabulous scenery the time had moved on without us noticing. It was a long, long drive back on hilly terrain for many miles before we got to the Autovia, now we could zip along at a better speed but we still arrived in the dark at 7.30pm. A cool refreshing glass of vino blanco was just what I needed to relax.

Posted in England, Spain

2017 – End of Year Roundup

 

The year of 2017 started our ‘living in retirement’, we have certainly been extremely busy, seen new parts of the UK and been lucky enough to travel extensively in Spain.

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Della the Dellaware

We enjoyed having Della the Autotrail Dellaware for 7 months touring over 2,100 miles around Spain’s south and east coast in February and March, followed by Devon in May.  Being a bit on the large size at 8 meters long and 4.25 tons, it could be difficult for me to position her onto some pitches and so inspite of her luxurious facilites and fixed island bed in the rear, we decided it was time to say goodbye to Della.

 

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Bessie the Bessacarr

Coming home via Wellington in Somerset we found a very suitable motorhome. Bessie the Bessacarr is only 7 meters long and 3.5 tons! She is so much easier to drive and maneouver and we definitely made the better choice second time around.  She also has a full kitchen, luxurious and spacious end shower room and two long sofas for day time, which then convert to a large double bed or two single beds, thereby more choice should we ever need it.

During 2017 we have done a lot of touring in the UK including stays in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Devon, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, Yorkshire and Derbyshire  We were lucky to spend the four coldest months this year on the east and south coasts of Spain, venturing inland to the mountains and plains for variety and interest.

In total I have driven 6,180 miles and we stayed at numerous campsites, several Aires including some free nights too, wracking up a total of 147 nights on tour.  We have met some lovely people as we travelled around and stayed in touch with a good many of them.

I hope you have enjoyed following our adventures and finding out where we have been.  It has been a momentous first year doing and seeing new things, which we hope to add to as we head back to Alicante to collect Bessie from storage on 8th January, continuing a route around Spain leading us back home by early March.

L&C Nov 2017

 

Posted in Spain

25th Nov – 7th Dec, Calpe, Bullas and Santa Pola

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Arriving in Calpe to a very British grey and blustery day by the sea, this was not quite what we wanted. The icon of the town, Peñón de Ifach, is a great limestone rock jutting skywards to 332 meters high and a magnificent sight with the sun on it, as we would see later next day. On a clear day it is said you can see Ibiza from the top, however, today it looked like you could only see the far side of the bay today and no further. I wanted to climb it as Richard and Trish had done, however having read various accounts of how scary and dangerous it was, needing stout footwear and nerves of steel when attempting the part after the tunnel, I decided I wasn’t going to attempt it. Shame, but the weather wasn’t playing ball and I couldn’t cope with my fear of falling so I decided there are other things in life to enjoy. Like a beer on the promenade, much safer I think.

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There was the usual harbour area with a mass of masts pointing up to the ‘Rock’, their reflections jiggling in the water as the tide brought the sea in, men mending fishing nets on the quayside and gulls squawking loudly. Two paddle-boarders made their way around the bay accompanied by their dog, a small pug who walked around the board and balance so well he seemed to be a natural, but when arriving on the sand he wanted lifting off so he didn’t get his feet wet! The high rise buildings are not what we really like, but on the front was a set of fountains and a long curve of beautiful soft sand.  I managed to capture us doing our own things by a palm tree, him with binoculars and me taking the photo, as a silhouette on the sand.

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The lagoon and wild area behind the beach had flamingos wading around, looking ghostly pale until they flapped their long, elegant wings, glowing deep rosy pink even on a dull day. There were also a good number of shell ducks and gulls bobbing around on the water, herons standing on sentry duty on the margins with a single common redstart amount the numerous black redstarts as we walked back through the scrub and bushes.

The ‘old town’ area of Calpe was a lovely surprise after the high rise on the sea front area. More traditional styled houses and restaurants jostled for space on the crowded streets, small streets jutted off at every angle as more as more buildings had been crammed in. This lovely informal jumble made a pleasant change from the grids of modern towns and together with some amazing murals on many buildings, it really is worth exploring.

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Up a red and yellow flight of stairs I found my favourite artwork which was painted on a hotel; a seascape with seagulls and a very well painted wooden ship, the photos do not do it justice, the buildings being so close together I could not get a decent angle on it.

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Some paintings were 3D with a balcony looking like it supported two buildings above it, others depicted scenes with many people even going up stairs along a balcony even though it was totally flat, so clever.

 

 

A depiction of the Moors & Christians where ships were coming into the harbour at Calpe, it covered an entire wall and gable end of the façade of the Tourist Office. There was a tiled map showing the produce from different towns in the Alicante Provincia which was interesting as we could see where we had been with various towns shown on the map. Later we found a modern amphitheatre used for regular theatrical productions, a few statues and some nice gardens and pots on terraces.

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One really weird building was a triumph of amalgamating an old building with a newer one. There was a modern entrance with an artwork and fabulous stained glass work either side of the massive door. To the left was the original classic church with vaulted roof, religious paintings, lots of gold, candles and wooden seating. Then to the right hand side of the central nave was the newer section, directly connected through a squared arch, having abstract roof lights, wall paintings and a stage in front of rows of seating.

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With a longer drive ahead of me, we had set off earlyish on our way to Bullas, West of Murcia, to meet Jess and Martin who I last met in Bridgnorth, Shropshire in 1978/1979! We chose a campsite in the hills 30 minutes from them, and settled in to relax after 125 miles of driving via a fruitless search in Murcia for some waste pipe we need. The temperature at 3 degrees Celsius was seriously down from the coastal regions and windy too, the sky a bright blue contrasting with yellow leaves and pine trees on the site. We spent the following day in the small town firstly in the very good Museo de Vino, great information boards, photographs and diagrams. Predictably 95% was in Spanish, along with a small explanation in English, and we were able to understand it fully even with our limited Spanish. There were life size model displays of working cellar rooms and a video in English, however this was so loud it sounded distorted and I was better off reading the Spanish!

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The town itself had a nice plaza with brightly painted buildings, a statue to celebrate the local industry of winemaking with a man treading grapes, a church and a few shops. It was still cold and as it was lunchtime we had tapas and beers at a corner bar and warmed up before walking back to Bessie at the campsite.  The campsite bar was warm and inviting so to round off a good day I had café con leche y cognac, and for Himself, a glass of wine or two!

 

 

 

We were collected next day by Martin and Jess and we enjoyed an impromptu wine tasting at their preferred Bodega, red wine at 11.30 is wonderful and between the four of us a whole bottle of delicious red wine just disappeared! A few purchases later and we made our way for coffee next, chatting non stop and admiring the cakes in the displays, but resisting temptation so it wouldn’t spoil lunch later on.

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Piling into the car we driven through open countryside and the narrow, open lanes around the lower slopes of the Sierra Cambrón, up to the tiny village of Coy where we were having lunch. Although it was a Friday, there were lots of people enjoying the food with friends and family, a noisy chatter filled the place making a lovely atmosphere. With great food and more wine inside us, we set off on our return journey. During the day so far, among other things we had discovered mutual hobbies of bird watching and walking, so on our return journey Martin stopped off at a couple of likely spots and some reservoirs, we picked up 3 new bird species for our tally which now stood at 97. Back at the campsite we were treated to a stunning red and orange sunset before sitting by an equally colourful, blazing woodburner later that evening. We had a fantastic time with Jess and Martin and will certainly be in touch in January when we return to the area.

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Heading for the northern corner of the Mar Menor back on the coast next day we walked along the salinas, (salty lagoons) in warmer temperatures of 13 degrees with the sun gently warming our backs while we looked for new bird species. Walking through the dunes at San Pedro de Pinatar we saw several stonechats and loads of gulls with beautiful silver sea holly growing in the sand. Further around and away from the sea with our eyes were scanning the inland pools we triumphantly we identified several black necked grebes, sanderling and ruddy turnstone; we were so pleased to reach 100 species, 5 more than our February/March trip to Spain.

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After only one night here we moved to our last destination at Santa Pola. Chris cooked up a feast of seafood paella and we opened a bottle of sparkling Cava to end the evening with.

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Settling in for the next 5 days with washing to do, and sorting clothes to return home with, we spent a couple of days doing nothing much really, except prepare for returning to the UK. At the back of the site is an area of wasteland covered with small trees, weeds and cacti in an assortment of sizes and prickles, some with flowers or fruits.

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Another walk around to the salinas added a couple of ospreys and 2 spoonbills, the local Nature reserve had flamingoes, black winged stilts, shovellers, egrets and numerous little grebes, but before long we headed into town for a few tapas for lunch. We had a varied assortment brought by our table, all smelling delicious and needing to be tasted, accompanied of course by beers and then more tapas plus some vino blanco. It’s a hard life but we do need to practice.

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Wandering back to the campsite we met up with fellow Bessacarr owners, Jilly and Alan from The Gower in South Wales. The next 3 hours were spent chatting, drinking more wine and beers and swapping experiences and tales until it had gone dark, oops where did the light go?

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Walking in the opposite direction next day, the sea was so calm, sun shining brightly and temperatures must have been around 17-18 C as we headed into the dunes area. Although it looks quite barren with sparse vegetation, there were several wild flowers, loads of crickets, snails that looked like humbugs, with dozens of sparrows and goldfinches feeding on a banquet of seeds.

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When you look around you it is surprising what you can notice. The boring looking bush below looked so insignificant, however it had tiny, pale yellow flowers all over it providing nectar for many insects.

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We were really chuffed to find a Great Grey Shrike sitting on the wires high up. Another name for this distinct bird is ‘butcher bird’ so called for its habit of impaling it’s food items on thorns in the bushes so it can eat them later! (Photo from Google).

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There is a wreck of a salt barge lying in the sand, it used to carry a ton of salt as it was transported up the coast for sale. Now the process is mechanised the salt sits in huge piles and is transported by lorry over land.

Returning towards the town we passed the nature reserve again where the plants seemed to be glowing in the sun. I’ve no idea what they were, sort of like heather but not, it was the leaves that provide the colour.

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All over this area we see the iconic black bull near the side of the road, made of metal sections it is visible for miles but at last I could stand next to one and it was massive.

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We are now at the end of an 8 week trip, our bird list final count is 105 species and we are flying home tomorrow for Christmas with family and friends. We have had such a lovely time, seen so much and met so many lovely people; this is what travelling and motorhoming is all about.

Lucky for us, it all begins again in January ……..

Posted in Spain

16th -24th November, Pen-pal, Promenades and Parcent

20171116_180633After visiting city environments over the last few days it was time to do the opposite and we headed back to the coast for a free night at Cullera and parked opposite the beautiful, deserted beach. Walking across the wide sandy bay we chatted over a drink to some British expats who had lived in the area for the last 35 years, before returning to Bessie to watch the sun go down out of our front window.

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Moving to a campsite at Gandia early next day I was excited and nervous at the same time. In my quest to learn to speak Spanish, using the internet I found a penpal who lives in a village near to Gandia, I was about to meet Vicent and his wife who were going to visit us at the campsite. I have been writing to Vicent for about 5 months, I write in Spanish and he writes back in English. He is a year younger than me and this year at his 60th birthday on 9th November he retired from teaching at a junior school. When our messages started they were quite short and now we can both write a few paragraphs, we had exchanged a photo so we would know who to look for, and at the appointed time met at the campsite bar. It was scary thinking we would not be able to say much to each other but we managed ok for 2 hours! I thought Vicent had learned a good amount of English and I managed at least some Spanish and Chris could also say somethings too so we enjoyed our time together. It was a good meeting and he kindly gave us a bird book with the Spanish names and a small reading book for me to practice with. We will continue to email and meet up again next time we return to the area.

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We moved further south to Denia on the coast and chose a pretty campsite. It had parking under pine trees with individual parking areas defined by small hedges and trees, not in rows but in random positions so it actually felt small and intimate. It was only 5 minutes walk from the beach with a rustic promenade and a few bars on the headland where we saw octopus drying on a frame. The rough rocks changed to a beach with a perfect sandy curve leading all the way to the marina. There was a lovely promenade, a sculpture of dolphins, flowers and restaurants, and a long pier which we walked along the whole length and watched men fishing while boats went out to sea or returned to the marina.

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We always walk a lot as Bessie stays on the sites, so it was on shanks’s pony as usual that we decided to see what was beyond the marina. We made our way up hill to the ‘castle’, it only cost 2 Euros each and although the position gave far reaching views down over the marina and across the bay, it really was a pile of old stones, a few walls and two storage urns. There was not much definition of the old building except one part they were renovating, the information boards were in a pile on the floor and the few remaining ones were devoid of any script at all.

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Returning by way of the marina we sat in the sunshine with a beer and spent the time watching the expensive plastic yachts bobbing on the water and listened to the gulls.

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Next day we turned in the opposite direction, it was a little more rural and the rugged cliffs fell away steeply to the sea below, wonderful turquoise blue with darker patches contrasting in the sunlight. Again we walked uphill where the tarmac eventually gave way to a hardcore stoned track took its place. It lead up to the 16th century Torre del Gerro high above us, originally a watchtower at 13.5 meters high, a series of these towers were built along the coast as protection from pirates. The circular tower has a door positioned high on the outside wall, two windows on the opposite side facing the sea, and a staircase inside although it is not permitted to enter. The views take in not only the sea and coastline but the hills behind and more behind them so it was well worth the climb.

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The time finally arrive for our long awaited visit to see our friends Irene and Trevor in Parcent, we last saw them in March when we were on our way back to the UK. As we drove away from the coast into the hills the almond trees and small farms became apparent again and some olive trees had nets spread under them as it is harvest time. Bessie’s temporary home was to be parked next to orange trees with views of the mountains by kind permission of one of a friend of Trevor’s.

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We caught up with each others news over lunch on the roof top terrace of the local Cooperativa; a bar, coffee house, restaurant, meeting place, entertainment hall and the hub of the community. The locals meet most days and if you need some work doing it is the best place to discuss requirements and find the help needed, a true Spanish village community where money may or may not be exchanged, perhaps produce or skills instead.

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We spent a lovely day together at Moraira in a small coastal bay, looking out over the balustrades and deserted beach and enjoying the best beer battered fish, chips and mushy peas I’ve had in a long while. Back at Parcent the colour of the bougainvillea draped over the wall and arch was so vivid against the sky, the lemon tree had a large crop nearly ripe for picking, many pots had geraniums still flowering and the balcony has views that cover a huge distance.

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Over our days in Parcent we walked around the area as we had enjoyed it so much on previous visits. Starting in the small square by the church we walked steeply downhill towards the old community Lavadera or public wash-house, crossed the road and up towards the fields and pine trees with scattered farms and houses. I was amazed to see so many wildflowers in late November and we could hear birdsong everywhere.

The trees were full of fruit; lemons, oranges, pomegranates and persimmons (or sharon fruit), with unpicked olives that are green or black against the grey foliage. The grape vines had turned red and yellow but weirdly some almond trees had new leaves with unharvested blackened nuts on the high branches, and a few with very early soft pink blossom all on the same tree! We also saw vegetables growing on the plots of land beside a lot of the houses, ripe tomatoes, artichokes and cabbages with new rows of brand beans over a foot high already, lettuce and shallots or small onions. Returning into the village over the bridge there were white roses and pink osteospermums in flower, huge cacti plants and two of those Kapoc trees with the spines and pink flowers I had seen at a previous location.


It is olive picking time in the area and we often heard the chug-chug engine noise of the odd looking tractor/rotavator vehicles dragging small trailers. In the back were plastic baskets full of olives and they were heading towards the Cooperativa where each farmer brings their crop to be weighed. The olives are all collected, washed then an elevator loads into large boxes before enough are collected to be taken elsewhere for pressing. Each farmer gets a percentage of olive oil back, relative to his contribution of olives and some of the oil is then sold in the Cooperativa.

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We had a wonderful lunch at the Tramonti Restaurant with Irene and Trevor on our last day in Parcent. The most delicious tomato soup was enhanced by vodka, Worcestershire sauce and tobacco sauce, brought to the table to add your own, and this delight is Trevor’s invention now requested by some of the regulars!

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We each had different main courses followed by profiteroles to finish and didn’t eat for the rest of the day. As usual, we spent our evening with Irene and Trevor, drinking and chatting before returning to Bessie each night. We had a fabulous time together and look forward to seeing them again in January.

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Posted in Spain

14th November, Old Valencia

20171114_110054.jpgHaving walked around the new area of Valencia we took a whole day and visited the old city area with the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen anywhere, so many crammed into such a close area, everywhere you looked was another wow factor.

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The Plaza del Ayuntamiento in particular was surrounded by works of art, most of the buildings a white, cream or pale in colour, many have towers, turrets, columns and arches. Black wrought ironwork on balconies and window grills contrast with the stone or plasterwork and massive doors are another feature of these buildings.
On our stroll around we found a few narrow side streets, an old record shop with 1,000s of LPs and lots of dust, a small street cafe with a very elegantly presented leg of ‘Jamon’, several heladarias selling all flavours of ice cream and countless coffee shops.

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We found an old church with light terracotta bricks and detailed plasterwork features above the door, figures in alcoves and statues and balustrades, with its tall bell tower beside. Inside was a huge ornate carved wooden feature behind the altar and a pale creamy gold coloured circular dome with light streaming in making it glow.

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The Silk Exchange is impressive from the outside, looking a bit like a castle with its high stone walls and a central courtyard, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. But much more interesti g on the inside, built during the 15th century it was the financial centre of La Lonja. The Main Hall with its amazing twisted columns was where Merchants worked out contracts. The honesty of the merchants is noted by the inscription in gold letters on a blue band near the ceiling and runs around the whole hall.

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Main Contract Hall
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Tribunal del Mar – main function room

I loved the patterns within the building, stained glass reflecting on the walls, a tiled floor looking like cubes or steps, diamond glass window and the detailed guiding work on the Tribunal function  room ceiling.

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The daily Central Market is housed in another beautiful building featuring big pillars and archways in on all four sides, colourful tiling and more wrought ironwork features. Inside the roof was a series of geometric shapes in black and white with a beautiful circular painted dome having windows to allow the light in.

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There were hundreds of stalls selling all manner of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, cheeses, meat and fish, also wines and beers, breads and cakes, candies, nuts, tapas, snacks and coffees. We even found ‘Shropshire Blue’ cheese on sale and it has pride of place in the centre of the bottom photo! The sights, colours and smells of this fabulous market will stay with me for ages, such excellent produce and such variety.

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We spent ages in there walking all the isles, ooing and aahing at so much wonderful and colourful food, gasping at some of the horrors of chickens feet, necks and heads left on, big fat grotesque tongues; they don’t waste anything, even the chicken carcasses all piled up to be sold alongside piles of bones. As we would be out walking all day and didn’t want to be carrying stuff around, sadly all we bought were 2 onions and a courgette, plus two crunchy rolls with the delicious jamon for lunch.

We couldn’t come to Valencia and not see the famous cathedral, consecrated in 1238, so glad we didn’t miss it as it is the spectacular one either of us has ever seen. Tucked in between buildings either side it, the octagonal tower with two rows of arched windows stood high above the grand door and rose window above. To the side were a series of arches looking a bit like an aqueduct!

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Inside seemed quite stark and plain at first with three vaulted naves, the main central one being wider and lighter than the other two. The tower with the arched windows was much more amazing inside, the bottom row of windows being more elaborately designed than the top row, all in white stone it looked very striking topped off with another vaulted ceiling.

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Behind the altar is the most elaborate chancel we have ever seen, the ceiling was so colourful, beautiful stained glass, so much gold and ancient religious paintings.

20171114_16564920171114_171151Around the back of the chancel is semi circular, wide walkway with many arched and vaulted side chapels and two enormous organs stand on either side, I would imagine the acoustics sound amazing.

 

 


It was quite cold and the light was beginning to go when we came out, time for some brisk walking to warm up. We found a square with a reclining figure in a fountain not far away and later a huge stone entrance gate to the city, sadly we were too late to go and walk around it, maybe next time!

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On our walks around Valencia, a city of approximately 970,000 people, while we were in the Oceanogràfic at a display, we realised we were standing by Caroline and Jeff who we had last seen in Navajas, first having met them in Benicàssim!  Then while looking around the old city and eventually needing a sit down before visiting the cathedral, we chose a cafe in the sunshine, as you do! The people on the table next to us said hello, we laughed because it was Joe and Sylvia from the Benicassim site, over 50 miles away, last seen helping me celebrate my birthday. How amazing is that, what a small world.

Posted in Spain

10th – 16th November, New Valencia

20171120_173047Heading south again we stopped off at Val de Uixo where there is a great system of caves that are deep inside the hills. Getting into a boat with 13 others we slipped off the jetty and into the dimly lit caverns, powered along like a punt we were taken slowly through the water only 2 feet deep pausing along the way to admire the stalagmites and stalactites, tall columns and stone curtains. We had an audio gadget to accompany the tour as the guide only spoke Spanish. Staying briefly further along the coast, we walked along the seafront and looked at the lagoons behind towering rushes to find a few more birds feeding in the shallow water.

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Finally we returned to Devesa Gardens, having stayed there in March we knew it was ideal for trips into Valencia. First we relaxed, walked along to an observation tower overlooking the lagoons and later that evening we went on a boat trip up the river and out into part of one lagoon.

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There were herons, egrets, hundreds of mallard and probably around 2,000 red crested pochard with the males having chestnut coloured heads, also we saw loads of marsh harriers cruising over the reeds beds.

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We planned 3 separate days in Valencia and used the very regular and cheap buses to ride in and out, a journey of 30 minutes at only €1.50 each. For both of us with return journeys that works out to only £5.50 (ish) with the current exchange rate.

We headed straight to the new area known as the City of Arts and Sciences and the magnificent archictual and cultural buildings that are entertainment based. There are seven very different buildings along a very wide walkway close to each other and linked by water and the promenade. We walked by all the buildings but only went inside three of them.

L’Hemisfèric built in 1998, also known as the planetarium or ‘eye of knowledge’ and it is the centrepice of the complex. The design looks like an eyelid which reflects into the surrounding water to create the whole eye. The roof opens to show the dome that is the ‘iris’ and this is the Ominax theatre which we didn’t go in this time. It is the first building in the photograph below.

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We spent most of a day inside the El Museo de les Ciènces Principe Felipe built in 2000, (the ribbed building behind). It was built to look a skeleton of a whale and covers 40,000 square meters on three floors, the first floor looks out over the Turing Garden with massive pools of water surrounding it. The science element was designed to be interactive and more to entertain and arouse curiosity than for education, although I think it does both. We tried several of the ‘hands on’ features, my favourite being ‘mind games’. I sat opposite Chris at a small table. In front of us was a tube with a small ball in the centre. We had to put our foreheads against a curved metal contact strip, then relax totally and zone out. The idea was that the most relaxed person’s brain activity would move the ball to the opposite person. I am quite a sceptical person and with the noise level in there I couldn’t believe it would really work, but amazing it did, and I was the winner! There was a Legacy of Science exhibition on the second floor which we skipped, and on up to the third floor which is known the Chromosome Forest. There was a section for each of our chromosomes, with multiple sided pods full of information and interactive facilities on each, things like sight, touch, genes, weight, why we age, diseases, speech and language.

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Photos from inside the Science Museum

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We also saw a dinosaur exhibition with loads of fossils and enormous replicas of the extinct animals, birds and fish. There was also another area full of stuff about space, rockets and the international space station with scaled down models. It would be easy to spend all day here too as there is so much to see and do. http://www.cac.es

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Below is my favourite building the L’Umbracle built in 2001 in an open series of 55 arches and 54 floating arches (I didn’t see any difference!) They are huge at 18 meters high, 320 meters long and 60 meters wide.  We spent quite some time in here, it houses hundreds of plants, shrubs and trees planted to change colour with each season, plus The Walk of Sculptures, including Yoko Ono’s work. I enjoyed walking through the gardens and really appreciated the building’s symetry and elegance.

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We spent a full day in the Oceanogràfic Park, opened in 2014 it is the largest complex of its kind in Europe, and certainly quite spectacular too with its lovely curved lines and reflective glass. Situated in the east side of Valencia it is housed in an iconic new building covering 110,000 square meters.  http://www.cac.es/oceanografic

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With 45,000 animals of 500 species including, fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates – sharks, beluga whales, walrus, sea lions and dolphins – penguins, scarlet ibis, spoonbills, egrets, herons – loads of fish, rays, moray eels, oh and over 80 species of plants too – the list is endless. It is such a fantastic place to visit and we spent over 6 hours in there! I’ll just add some photos so you get the idea!

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The last three buildings are:

Left:   The El Pont de l’Asset de l’Or is 125 meters high is a a cable-stayed bridge across the dry riverbed built in 2008. Chris is in the photo to give an idea of scale.

Top:   El Palau de las Arts Regina Sofia built in 2005 which is an opera house and performing arts centre. This one reminded me of the computer game Pac Man at certain angles.

Bottom:  The L’Àgora built in 2009 is a covered square for sports events, concerts, exhibitions and conventions. Designed to look like a pair of hands, palms touching, where the top edges (the thumbs) can be opened up depending on the event being staged.

 

We wanted to walk in the Turia Gardens which were made in the former riverbed of the River Turia. In October 1957 after continued torrential rain, there was a terrible flood causing 81 deaths and widespread property destruction in the city. The river was re-routed south of Valencia over 3 km away, then work started in 1964 to create the city gardens and it was finally finished in 1973.

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The old riverbed has been transformed into Jardine del Turia, a five mile park of 450 acres, in some places 600 feet wide, with a ‘shallow river’ running through it into pools, it is great for people and wildlife in the heart of the city. There are cafes, sports facilities, works of art, outdoor gyms, walking and cycling routes, gardens and space to chill out and relax.

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Valencia has been a wonderful place to visit, a city I could live in, close to the mountains and the sea with everything anyone could ever need. We will return here and visit different things next time.