Unfortunately the Costa del Sol has turned into the Costa del Lluvia y Viento (Rain and Wind). The locals are telling us that they have not had this much rain in years. Today is again very wet, with high winds thrown in. We did take advantage of a short break to move up the coast a couple of hours. Along the way we passed miles and miles of fields with plastic covered plants, it turns out this area is the center of tomato and pepper production for Europe. It is good for the economy, but detracts from the views.
The aire we are staying at is owned by a Spanish/British couple who are RVer’s also. You can tell as they designed it in a way that is really user friendly, their experience shows. They are considering a trip to the US so we exchanged some information with them.
Later in the day we headed into Malaga which is a town we are both familiar with from school. We took a local bus into town, as we came around a point of land we had our first view of the harbor. To our dismay their were 3 cruise ships in port including the largest one we have ever seen. It turns out there was actually a 4th one but it was a sailing cruise ship and did not stand out. We knew then that the town would be packed.
Malaga had a really nice vibe to it, and we enjoyed wandering around town. As usual we checked out the cathedral, the castle (Arabic), and some old buildings. The old town is dwarfed by the new town, but it was still quite large. The Spanish do a great job of making their down town cores pedestrian friendly. The walkways are wide, and most streets have very limited access for cars and delivery trucks, so the roads can also safely be used for pedestrian traffic. Ton really loves how they make it easy to enjoy a stroll.
The high light of the day was the Picasso Museum. Picasso was originally from Malaga and the museum did a good job of showing the different phases of his development. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed in the museum. It is an excellent museum without having any of his famous works. Because of this they focused more on how his work developed from his early days as a student until his late works in his 90’s.
After that we were wandering down a street looking for the market when we came upon an old bar that looked interesting, it was founded in 1840 and was the official supplier of sherrie for Queen Isabel II before she abdicated and moved to France. They served glasses of different sherries out of giant wooden casks. They had a variety of different local sherries which is a regional specialty around Malaga. They also had a very interesting way of keeping the tab, after you order they take a piece of chalk and write the amount you owe for the round on the wooden bar in front of you. It’s simple and you know right where you stand, and as an Englishman next to us explained you do not have to worry about losing your spot at the bar when you go to the bathroom, because for someone to take your spot at the bar, they also inherit your tab! Unfortunately we forgot to get a liter to go.
The weather today was supposed to be very poor all day. There was a large storm that passed thru overnight complete with lightning and high winds. As a result our plans to visit Malaga were put on hold.
We did shift up the coast about 150km to the town of Torre del Bengalbon which is a “suburb” of Malaga. We are staying in a private aire which while small is more like a campground than an aire, but is priced like an aire. We met the owners who are planning a trip to the US and promised to spend some time discussing camping at home. You can tell from the layout that they are RV’ers themselves as everything is laid out exactly how you would like it to be.
Since we did no proper sight seeing today we thought we would talk about Ton’s second favorite thing to do in Europe which is wander thru supermarkets. In general any town of over 2 or 3 thousand has a supermarket of one of the major brands. Several of the brands cover both France and Spain. In general they are similar to the US in layout, but there are always local touches. In France you are guaranteed to find a huge Cheese section or Fromaggerie full of interesting cheeses. In Spain you will find huge hams made of the legs of the pig. You can buy a 20 kilo (45 pound) ham leg for around 60 Euros. If you do not have space for a 20 kilo ham leg you can have the butcher in the restaurant carve you chunks of ham from a selection of 4 or 5 different kind of ham legs. Even the Costco in Seville had a section for ham legs. In both countries you will also find a huge wine section with a wide selection of wine. We are still sticking to our €2.99 or less rule and after about 30 bottles between the two trips have only had 3 bad wines.
Today is a day of three currencies. Last night Ton thought that we should take care of our laundry on the Navy Base at Rota. We had a fair amount of laundry and the sheets and stuff in the van could do with a washing. The Navy Base has big American washers and dryers, they take US currency so we dug around in our wallets and came up with a few dollars. They were a great bargain compared to what we usually pay for European washers. After we finished our laundry we drove over to Gibraltar which was our destination for the day. When we arrived we used Euros to pay for our aire which is on the Spanish side of the border. Since we were in a hurry to get here we were famished when we got thru customs, so we went right to a proper British Pub for lunch, and paid our bill in Pounds. So to sum up today we used three different currencies in their native environments, (US Bases overseas always do all transactions in dollars).
Today was also Ron’s first visit to the United Kingdom. Gibraltar is an interesting British enclave in Spain. It has been British since 1704 when it was ceded to them after some complicated and boring negotiations between Spain, Britain, France, and Austria. While you hear more Spanish being spoken than English, it does feel quite English.
After our proper British lunch of Fish and Chips for Ron and a Steak and Ale Pie for Ton. We decided to head to the top of the Rock. They have a cable car that takes you up there, but when we got to the office the line was quite long and we were running out of time. Luckily for us we ran into a tour guide who was looking for two people to fill out his group for a van ride to the top. This allowed us to cover a great deal more than we would have been able to cover once we got to the top on foot, with a knowledgeable and professional guide, and in the end it only cost us €2 more than if we had done the trip on our own.
The first stop was St. Michaels cave a natural cave that has been in use back to the Roman times. As the rock is mostly limestone, the cave was full of stalactites, and stalagmites. It was really unexpected for us. During WWII the cave was expanded to serve as a military hospital, but was never used. After the war it was converted to a concert hall.
The next stop was near the top of the rock, where we met the Macaque Monkeys. There are about 250 of these monkeys on the rock, and they are allowed to run free, though they are fed and periodically given shots by the government. Adrian the guide was very familiar with them, and was able to get them to pose for photos.
The last stop were some man made caves facing Spain. These were military emplacements, though they have not been in action since 1760.
Our last experience was watching the restaurants all closing up for the night around 7pm in Gibraltar. This is about the time the Spanish restaurants one mile away are opening their doors for dinner.
Last night we had to do some soul searching about what direction to go next. When we arrived 6 weeks seemed like a long time, but as we have progressed thru the trip we find we have to keep making hard decisions about next steps. After some discussion we decided to head back almost to Seville to hit some of the coast line and to visit Gibraltar. We picked a place called Rota to pick up the coast because Ron knew of it from the US Navy base located there.
We woke up to a pretty steady rain, but by the time we got organized to leave the rain had let up. The freeway system in Spain is quite good, and unlike France largely free. It was mostly developed in the 90’s and 00’s. As a consequence the old national roads which are two lanes and generally of good quality are almost empty except for local traffic. The GPS for reasons unclear decided to route us most of the day on one of the national roads instead of the Autovia (freeway). We actually enjoyed it as we were able to see more of the countryside, and some of the White Pueblos of Andalusia.
We arrived in Rota and swung by the Naval Base to do some shopping. After that we headed to an aire located 100 yards from the beach. Ton whipped up a late lunch early supper. After we were done Ton declared siesta time for a couple of hours.
In the evening we walked down the beach towards town. It was a nice beach, and in addition to the ocean we could see the port of Cadiz in the distance with a cruise ship and a large ferry entering. The most interesting thing were several large man made rock walls that went into the ocean. They were obviously quite old, Ron guessed they were used for fishing and he was right. They are the fish corrals of Rota, and are a National Monument in Spain. They date back to the Roman times and were used until the 1950’s. They are designed so that they trap fish at low tide making it easier to catch them.
Today was a day we really looked forward to when we headed to Spain. The Alhambra is one of the biggest attractions in Spain, and getting here threw our plans off a bit when we realized there were only tickets available one day this month.
We were both pretty excited so we woke a little earlier than we needed to. Since we were up we decided to head into town. We grabbed the bus to the cathedral, and from there transferred to a mini-bus that goes to the Alhambra. The bus system in Granada is really exceptional.
When we arrived at the Cathedral we took some time to explore the area. In addition to the Cathedral which was another beautiful building that was different in that only one of the walls was exposed, there was also a restored market from the Arab era. During the Arab era it was a silk market, and has been serving as a market since then. There was a large fire that destroyed much of it in the 1840’s, it has been rebuilt but remains the same character.
We were not quite sure how things worked when we arrived we knew we had a time for a tour of the Nasrid Palace so we assumed that we could not get access to the grounds until 1pm. But it turns out your ticket gets you on the grounds all day, the only space that is controlled is the Nasrid Palace. So we were glad we arrived a couple hours before hand.
We used the early time to explore the gardens of the palace which are extensive and really beautiful. Ton was thrilled with all of the plants and flowers, as well as the views from the gardens. It was a nice introduction to the place, and we began to sense it was quite special.
By the time we poked around in the gardens for a while it was time to head down to the Palace for our tour. The palace lived up to its billing and I see why it is one of the most visited places in Spain. In the last few years they have had to limit the number of visitors to 8300 per day, and almost every day of the year sells out. The palace is a work of art with incredible tile, plaster, and wooden walls. The calligraphy and the art work in the plaster is beautiful, the wood carvings in the ceilings and doors are masterful. The town must have been an interesting place as the number of high quality artisans and artists here must have made for some wild characters. The flow from room to courtyards with beautiful fountains is a joy to behold.
We were among the last from our group to leave as around every turn was a wow moment for us. Our next stop was the fort which was impressive but had an impossible act to follow. The view of the city from the top of the watch tower though was worth the climb.
We finished with a tour of another building which was a smaller version of the palace, it was the pleasure palace of the sultan. It was a great way to wrap up the day.
The final thrill for us was the bus ride back into town. We boarded the same bus 32 we had rode down on. But going back we took back roads and alleys that were incredibly narrow. The mini-bus is a 24 ft Sprinter Van. On multiple occasions we had maybe an inch or two of clearance on both sides of the bus, and some of the turns were incredibly tight. Thru out the drive the bus driver kept up a spirited conversation with one of the passengers. These guys are good.
This will be a very short update. We woke up to pounding rain and a little wind. It caught us off guard as it had been beautiful when we went to bed. The remnants of an Atlantic Hurricane was passing thru. As we were both awake, we decided to head over to Granada early.
We got out of the city early, and had the highway nearly to ourselves most of the way, which was good as the weather was terrible. Despite that we made good time on the freeway and pulled into Granada around 11:15.
Our plan here is to stay in a campground as there are not a lot of good options. Since we were paying for a campground we decided to use today to take care of some laundry. When Ron went in to check in he was told it was impossible to park until 2pm and we needed to come back then. It was raining sideways, and not knowing the town we had no idea what to do for a couple of hours. We ended up driving over to a shopping center and parking there. Since there was nothing else to do, everything was closed on Sunday, we watched a movie.
We returned about 1:30 and the same surly person who did not want anything to do with us was now all smiles and helpful. We pulled into a half empty campground and we are pretty sure all of the empty spots did not clear out in the 2 hours we were in the shopping center. We also got our laundry done.
After breakfast we decided to head into town a little early for a coffee, and to use some indoor plumbing. As we were walking into town in the morning it was a little quiet but starting to stir. The sun was shining and there was an air of freshness to things, Ton looked up and said “I like this town”. Seville has been everything we hoped it would be and more. We have really enjoyed ourselves.
The highlight of the day was a guided tour of the Alcazar. It is the royal palace of Seville and dates to the 12th century as a palace. It is claimed to be the oldest royal palace still in use, though the British on our tour thought that Windsor Castle was older. After some discussion between the British and the Spanish guide, they decided it could be both depending on how you counted.
The palace consists of three buildings, two of which were built by Christians after the reconquest and one by the Islamic Caliphate that fortunately was left largely intact . They each have there own unique style, but for us the most impressive building was the one built in the Mudejar style. The palace also has extensive gardens that are also quite beautiful. Ton just about ran the battery out on her camera taking pictures. We ended up spending over three hours on the tour and then retracing our steps to look at places that we really liked.
By the time we were done with the Alcazar we were ready for a nice lunch. We went to a place that has been in business for 75 years Bodega Gongora, and we understand why. The street seating and the good seating was all taken, and we were about to leave when we found a small room in back by the bathrooms that we had to ourselves for the meal. We had a grilled seafood plate that consisted of Octopus, Tuna, Anchovies, Sardines, and a white fish we could not identify. The fish was delicious, though we decided that in the future we are going to have our Sardines and Anchovies fried as you can just crunch the bones with the fish.
We spent some time walking around town and people watching. The city is incredibly pedestrian friendly, and the people of Seville seem to really enjoy just going out for a stroll and to eat. It really is a city to love.
Seville was always our target for the trip. After a poor nights sleep on the wrong side of the tracks we decided to shift to a parking lot near the city center. Ron was a little worried about driving into the middle of a big city during rush hour. It turned out to be a breeze as it was a holiday. We are now parked next to the Guadalquivir River along with about 40 other RV’s.
Seville is a great city with an interesting history. Initially a Roman city, it was conquered and ruled by the Arabs for five hundred years. Many of the major buildings and the city walls were built by the Arabs. The Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe, and the Alcazar the old Arab palace,are the two main attractions and we intended to go to both of them today. When we went to buy tickets for the Alcazar we were told there were no tickets available until tomorrow. So we are now spending one more night in Seville.
We did get into the Cathedral, and it is very impressive, and large. While the architectural style is similar to the French Cathedrals, the art and the alters are quite different. We spent a couple of hours going thru on our own, and occasionally eavesdropping on the guided tours.
During one of our eavesdropping sessions we learned the story of Christopher Columbus’ body. While he is famously Italian, his trip of discovery was funded by the Spanish king and left from Seville. When he died he had asked that his body be buried in what is today the Dominican Republic, but it did not happen and he was originally buried in Seville. After a couple of years his son had half of his body sent to Italy, and the remainder stayed in Seville. A little later the half of his body in Seville was sent to the Dominican Republic. In the late 1700’s the Dominican Republic rebelled against Spain and one of the last things the Spanish did before leaving was to move Christopher’s body to Cuba. When the Cuban’s successfully rebelled against Spain the Spanish again moved Christopher to Seville. A little later everyone got over the rebellions and etc, and Christopher is back in the Dominican Republic. I don’t know if the story is true, but it is a good story.
There was also a bull fight today, and we walked by the arena just before the start. There was an incredible energy to the crowd as they entered. While neither one of us would be comfortable watching, it is an important part of the heritage of Spain and Seville. Seville also has a great cafe scene, in fact Ron thinks it is better than Paris. Today is a holiday, and the cafe’s were full, and it was great people watching. We decided to have a meal, and it was ok. But we enjoyed ourselves. So far our best meal on the trip was at the little campground we stayed at in Tordesillas.
Some of our other friends are also touring Europe this month. They are staying in 5 star hotels, and River Cruise Boats. Tonight we are parked in a RV storage yard under a high speed rail line, next to a freeway, and to finish off the ambience the field next door has recently been plowed and apparently well fertilized by the smell. Seville is the 4th largest city in Spain with a metro of over 1.5 million so it is not set up for RV travelers.
Today is the first day we really did no tourism. We woke up late as we are both still battling a bug, particularly Ton. After we got organized we bought just enough gas to get to Seville as the highlight of our day was going to be a visit to one of the two Costco’s in Spain where gas was advertised at 1.15 per liter. The norm in Spain looks to be around 1.28/l.
This was a day to take care of logistics as we also needed propane, so as we drove down the freeway we were keeping an eye out for a gas station with LP gas for cars. After a while we found one and Ron eventually figured out the system We are now probably set for propane for the remainder of the trip.
Just a note on roads, Spain has an extensive system of freeways that are actually free. In France to keep us on backroads all we had to do was turn on the no tolls button on the GPS. In Spain we keep finding ourselves rolling down freeways at 60mph, with cars whizzing by at 80mph. It is in many ways more relaxing (Ron can drink his coffee while driving), but you miss the feel for the countryside. The last two days this served its purpose as with both of us not feeling well and with some distance to travel the shorter days paid off.
Having said that the GPS decided to route us the last 10 kilometers to Costco right thru the heart of Seville. Ron got to test his urban driving skills for about 45 minutes until we reached Costco.
Costco in Spain looks exactly like Costco in the US, and a lot of the products come from the US. But there are a lot of different products that make it interesting. Even being conservative in purchases the refrigerator and cupboards in François are stuffed tonight. Interestingly when we got to the pump to buy our fuel our Costco credit card would not work because it does not have a PIN. After some scrambling around we got our cheap diesel, before retiring to our luxury accommodations under the train tracks. Another romantic day in Europe.