November 1, 2018 Issoire FR

After a short nights sleep and feeling a little worst for wear we woke up to beautiful blue skies.  It was time to make some tracks and begin heading towards the barn.  Today we decided to drive about half way to Sens, and for the first time we used a toll road on the trip to expedite the 550 km’s we wanted to drive.

There is not much to talk about today as it was a long drive, and it turns out a holiday in France so there was extra traffic.  Ton took a couple of windshield pictures of fall colors as we drove thru the central mastiff a mountainous region in central France.

This highway bridge the Viaduct de Millau jumps over a valley and is about 500 feet high and over two miles long.  It is also quite expensive costing €12, but it probably saves you 45 minutes of winding down into the valley and then climbing back out.  Instead you jump across the valley in 2 minutes.

October 31, 2018 Mataro SP

The problem with traveling during shoulder season is the weather is unpredictable.  It has been a wet October in Spain, and it culminated with today.  When we checked the weather last night they predicted a very large storm with possible flash floods, high winds and thunderstorms.  It was supposed to last all day.  Our original thoughts were to begin moving north towards France by bounding up the coast to Roses.  But when we checked the weather there it was actually supposed to be worst than Mataros.  Eventually we decided to hunker down for the day.

This picture is recycled as the weather did not allow us to get anything nice today.

Unfortunately the weather man got it right and it was spectacularly bad weather all day.  We were a little surprised that so many people were choosing to leave when the weather was so bad, and we were beginning to think we were whimps for not carrying on with our plans.  It turns out we did not know that today was the last day the campground was open this year and everyone has to be out by tomorrow morning.

We were going a little stir crazy so we decided to see if the campground had anything planned for the evening, and they did, a wine tasting.  We signed up and it became the highlight of our day.  The tasting was by a local winery in Mataro, and there were only 6 people at the tasting, two English couples and us.  Laura the representative from the winery had brought 4 wines to taste.  She did a great job of explaining the characteristics of the wine from Mataro, and the wines were quite good.  During the tasting we struck up a conversation with one of the English couples , and at the end of the tasting Laura surprised us by putting the 4 bottles in the center of the table and told us we were free to finish them, not knowing this we had also purchased a wine from them, so the 4 of us had the duty of finishing off 5 bottles of wine.  Lyndsey and her husband  John were kind enough to invite us over for supper so we could have some food with the wine.  It turned into a fun night, and it was nearly 1am when we made it to bed having done our duty and finished off all of the wine.  Thanks for the exceptional hospitality Lyndsey and John.

October 30, 2018 Barcelona SP

Today we planned a second trip into Barcelona.  The primary purpose was to visit the interior of the Sagarda Familia, much like the Alhambra visitors are limited per day, and you have to register in advance to get a time to visit.  When we returned to the campground on Sunday we signed up for the next available spot and it turned out to be at 4:45 PM today.

Today was by far the nicest day of our visit to Barcelona with clear blue skies, though it was still on the chilly side.  We took the first bus into town as we wanted to spend some time in the markets at Barcelona.  They have two markets and we (particularly Ton) really enjoy poking around in the markets to look at the different food products.  We also used the time to look around the old town.  We pretty much just wandered around looking at churches, stores, and people.  Barcelona is now the third or fourth most visited city in Europe, depending on who is counting, so there is quite a lot to see. The shopping is diverse and interesting.

The entrance to the Market.
A fruit and vegetable display complete with jack o lanterns, here in Spain they attach tape to the exterior of the pumpkin to make the face.

We have become addicted to Pinxos which is Basque Tapas, and had them again at lunch.  In the past we had been eating mostly seafood, so today we went more towards meets and sausages.  They were also delicious, Ton also had her new favorite drink at lunch, a good Spanish Vermouth.

Finally we headed over to the Sagarda for our tour.  They are really serious about the time on your ticket, we got in line at 4:30, and when we got to the door they turned us around and told us to come back in 15 minutes. 

While we were waiting to get in Ton took this shot depicting Judas kissing Jesus before betraying him.  The numbers on the left add up to 33 in all directions, Jesus age at his death.

We have seen a lot of cathedrals in our last two trips.  Ron thought the exterior of the Sagarda was a little overwrought for his tastes, and preferred the more traditional gothic cathedrals.  Ton thinks you cannot compare the Sagarda with a traditional cathedral.  However, Ron was wowed with the interior of the Sagarda.  While the exterior is extremely busy, the interior is magically elegant, and the use of light is masterful.  His vision of the columns of the cathedral as a forest of trees is stunning.  The soaring ceilings are really something, and seem much grander than the large gothic cathedrals.  Ton was impressed with the stained glass windows, and the way the colors effected the mood of the interior.  The Sagarda is an extremely moving place, and we think Gaudi’s genius came thru on the interior, and his madness comes thru on the exterior.

The columns divide at the top to look like canopies of trees and also to support the roof.
One of the few statues inside the cathedral, this one is of Mary.

October 29, 2018 Mataro SP

Well we are starting to run into some bad weather.  We woke up to temperatures in the low 40’s scattered showers and heavy wind.  All together a miserable day.  We hung around François for the morning, finally getting cabin fever we decided to head into town to the mall, because that’s what you do when the weather sucks.

Our thought was to catch a movie, but they do not appear to have matinees in Spain, or at least in Mataro.  So we poked around the mall for a couple of hours, and then headed to the campground.  We attended a class on how to make Sangria, which was fun, and we got a pitcher of Sangria to taste at the end.  Some days are better than others.

Another Gaudi facade from yesterday.

October 28, 2018 Barcelona SP

While we are staying in Mataro, the purpose of the visit is to see Barcelona.  The campground we are staying at is about 40 minutes outside of Barcelona, but offers free shuttles into the city which is nice.  It is one of the huge campgrounds in Spain that cater to European snowbirds, there are over 300 spots here, with a bar, restaurant, pool, beach club, and tourist activities.  It is quite a place.

The weather was a little better than yesterday but cold.  The place we visited two days ago had snow overnight, and it was still raining when we set off.  We intended today to be a bit of a reconnaissance of Barcelona so we did not have any firm plans but just wanted to get a feel for the city.  

When we got there it was raining pretty hard so we decided to duck into a coffee shop to plan the day.  After nursing our coffee and chocolate as long as possible we decided to head towards the medieval cathedral.  Barcelona has two cathedrals, one is world famous, and the other is the medieval one.  We will talk about the famous one later.

On our way to the cathedral we bumped into a “free” walking tour of Barcelona.  We had done these “free” tours in Chile and enjoyed them so we joined it.  It was a good decision as it gave us some good background on Catalonia, Barcelona, and the history of Wilfred the Hairy which is Ron’s favorite medieval name, (Richard the Lionhearted, Charles the Brave, and Wilfred the Hairy were all contemporaries more or less, apparently Wilfred was exceptionally hairy).

The door of the Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona.
Wilfred the Hairy depicted slaying a dragon (that looks suspiciously like a giant parrot) on the side of the cathedral

We stopped in a little cafe on the tour that was run entirely by Americans, but they had a good vermouth that Ton and I enjoyed.  After the tour was over they were offering a non-free Gaudi and modernisme tour.  We decided to join that tour also.

The modernisme movement flourished in Barcelona in the early 1900’s and is led by a guy named Gaudi.  We looked at several interesting versions of modernisme buildings ending with a tour of the La Sagarda Familia.  It is an extremely interesting building.  Gaudi was a Catalan who is considered the leader of the modernisme movement.  The university he received his architecture degree from said they were giving a degree to either a genius or a madman.  

The facade of a building Gaudi re-modeled in the early 1900’s.
Another Gaudi building from the early 1900’s he hated straight lines and symmetry as he believed they were not natural.

The Sagarda was commissioned by the city during the 1880’s and Gaudi took over the building a year after it was started.  In the end he did descend into madness, and it became his obsession.  It is still under construction 140 years later, and looks like it has another 20 or 30 years to go, though the official completion date is supposed to be in 8 years.  One interesting fact is that for the first 130 years it was under construction it did not have a building permit.  They recently resolved that and the commission that owns it paid a €30 million fine.  We will tour the interior on Tuesday so more to come on Gaudi and the Sagarda.

The door of the Sagarda, contrast it with the Gothic Cathedral above.  All of the figures around the door were plaster casts of real people in Barcelona.

October 27, 2018 Mataro SP

There is nothing much to write about today.  The weather forecast was for rain all day, and they were right.  We shifted about 90 KM’s to a campground north of Barcelona where we plan to spend a few days exploring Barcelona once the rain stops.

After the drive we settled in for a maintenance day, did some laundry, bought some groceries, and listened to the rain pound on François.  Tomorrow will be more interesting.

Some pretty flowers, since the rain helps make the beautiful flowers.

October 26, 2018 Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues SP

Tonight we are parked at a winery called Cellar Battl Artcava.  We are little bit southwest of Barcelona.  This area is known for a sparkling wine called Cava.  

We had booked a visit to the largest producer of Cava in Spain called Codorniu, it has been in business since 1541, and is still owned by the 18th generation of the original family.  We both woke up early and even though it was only a couple of hours to the winery we left pretty early, and sure enough arrived very early for our 330 pm tour.  After looking at our options we decided to head into one of the larger towns nearby to see if we could knock out some laundry.  That did not happen, but we did find a Lidl which is Ton’s favorite grocery store here.

After spending some money in Lidl we headed back to the winery and still had some time to kill so, so we settled in and did some reading.  Finally we went in and had the light lunch we had scheduled, we met a couple from Austin who were touring Italy and Spain by car.  We swapped stories about  wine regions before beginning the tour.  

In the foreground is a very large vessel used for olive oil production in the 16th century, in the background is a wine press from the 19th century.

We have been on a lot of wine tours but this one was unique.  This is an industrial sized winery and they have the capacity to produce one million bottles in a year, though last year they “only” made 600,000 bottles.  Around 1911 they focused exclusively on Cava which is a sparkling wine.  The tour focused on their storage caves which are about 90 feet underground and according to the guide cover 13.5 km’s of tunnels.  To prove the extent of the tunnels at one point they loaded us all onto a train and drove us around the tunnels for about 10 minutes.  They are really vast.  The wine was good, but we still are not great fans of sparkling wines.

Part of the extensive cellars used to store Cava while it ages 2 to 10 years.

After the tour we moved over to Cellar Battl Artcava which is supposed to be located 5 minutes from the source of the original vineyards in Catalan, so it is the Cava (winery) closest to the origin of wine here.  

We have been in Catalan for a few days now and are beginning to get even more confused with romance languages.  The signs here are in Catalan and Spanish. Catalan unlike Basque is a romance language, but it is as different from Spanish as French or Portuguese is.  As an example wine in French is Vin, in Spanish is Vino, and in Catalan is Vi.  There has been a bit of a political uproar as the Catalan parliament voted to leave Spain last year, but driving around there is no sign that anything is happening to move that forward or to stymie it, but of course we cannot read the signs in Spanish or Catalan!

This vineyard is 2 minutes from the source of the original vineyard in Catalan.

October 25, 2018 L’Ampolla SP

We finally did some serious back country driving today.  Rather than take the freeways back to the coast we decided to cut across the mountains of Aragon to the coast.  The drive was up and down and for about 35 km’s on a pretty rough one and a half lane road.  The good news was that the roads were not busy at all and most of the time we could take our time traversing the many switch backs and curves.  While it was a lot of work we were rewarded with some incredible views and the most remote terrain we have seen anywhere in Europe.  We saw a great town right out of the movies called Morella which had an immense hilltop castle with a walled town under it.  The castle was originally built by the Knights Templar to defend against the Moslem kingdom in Andalusia.  While it was beautiful and remote it was obviously poorer than the areas we have been traveling in with none of the modern homes and apartments we have seen everywhere else.

We are not sure of the name of this town, but we eventually passed thru it on the road near the top left of the photo.  Miles and miles of the hills also had the terraces you see on the lower left side. We are not sure what crop they grow there.
We also saw our first fall colors in Spain.  The mountains were full of cottonwoods.

Tonight we are parked in the town of Ampolla which is adjacent to one of the largest estuaries in Spain.  After the long drive we took some time to rest before going out to explore the local area.  Adjacent to the campsite is the estuary which is one of the major rice producing areas for Spain.  It is also a wildlife sanctuary hosting a wide variety of birds including flamingos even though we did not see any.

After dinner we walked along the boardwalk into town.  It is a pleasant little seaside resort, which was largely abandoned during off season.  We continue to be very impressed with how the Spanish set their towns up to make walking a pleasure with wide sidewalks.

Sunset on the Mediterranean.

October 24, 2018 Tereul SP

After a string of big cities we decided to head a little more into the back country.  Teruel is in the mountains west of Valencia and is famous for it’s Mudejar style towers.  Mudejar architecture is a style developed by the Moslem residents of Spain in the 13th and 14th century.  

We arrived at Teruel and found a place to park across from the Guardia Civil Barracks in a free parking place.  The Guardia Civil are a national police force that are associated with the army.  In addition to doing police work in the country, they often serve as the Spanish representation on UN peacekeeping operations.  They also have one of the most distinctive hats of any military organization in the world, a patent leather tri-corner thing with an extension that comes off the back, completely impractical but cool.   I think we are pretty safe for tonight.

After a quick shop in the Mercadado Grocery across the street to stock up our depleted supplies, we headed into town.  The old town is quite nice, but it was a little dead as we arrived right at the beginning of the siesta from 2 to 5 pm.  As a result we had the town pretty much to ourselves.

The Mudejar style Cathedral of Teruel.

The town did have some very nice Mudejar towers, and a really unique staircase that led into one of the towers.  The towers mark where the gates were when the town was fortified during the middle ages.  

Our favorite of the Mudejar towers of Teruel.
The stairway to the main entranceway to the town.

Teruel is also famous for a Romeo and Juliet type love story.  Isabel and Diego were lovers who intended to marry after Diego returned from 5 years in the army.  Isabel waited the 5 years but Diego did not return and was reported dead, so she became engaged with another fellow.  On the day of her marriage Diego returned and asked for a kiss, but she refused.  Diego died of a broken heart.  Isabelle went to his funeral and gave him the kiss she refused when he was alive, and promptly died.  They are now buried together in the Cathedral of Teruel.

Diego and Isabel, the star crossed lovers of Teruel.

October 23, 2018 Valencia SP

Today we wanted to see the new part of Valencia.  At some point recently the residents of the city rerouted the river that used to run thru the center of the city to prevent flooding.  This opened up the old river bed for development which they turned into a giant park thru the city center.

At one end they have constructed some very monumental buildings with a very modern design.  This area of development is the largest in Europe of it’s type.  The main buildings are an opera house, a science museum, an Imax theater, and an aquarium. They are tied together with large walkways and fountains.  It is an immense development and quite striking.  The opera house in particular impressed us with its design.

The opera house in the background and the Imax theater in the foreground.
It is an impressive complex, reflecting pond in front of the Science Museum.

It was quite a walk there, and eventually we tried to take a bus, Ron spent quite a while trying to sort out how the bus system worked.  We did eventually work it out, but had an issue when we found out that the bus drivers would not make change for €20 note.  We emptied our pockets but were about 40 cents short of the €3 we need.  Luckily a lady in one of the seats saw this ordeal and handed us 2 10’s for our 20, everyone was happy.  Another good person doing a good deed for complete strangers, we find this happens far more often than the opposite.

Having walked quite a distance we headed back to our campsite.  We met Pat and Jessie for another couple of drinks.  We are hoping we meet them again in a few years in the US so we can repay some of their kindness to us.

October 22, 2018 Valencia SP

Our campsite is located outside of Valencia about 40 minutes by train.  Ton has been looking forward to Valencia for a couple of days particularly the market which is the largest in Europe.  The downtown has a new and old feel simultaneously that we liked.  Once again the old town is great for walking with very few cars in it.  

A gargoyle on one of the old churches.

We started at the market which is immense.  It is an old iron building which seems to have been popular for markets in Spain and France during the late 1800’s.  We spent quite a bit of time just walking from stall to stall enjoying the sights and smells of the different foods. We ended up buying some spices at one of the stalls.  

A whole piglet for sale in one of the meat shops.
Some of the spices Ton bought.

After shopping was done we decided to have a Spanish specialty that we had been seeing, Churros and Chocolate.  We found a street food stall that was highly recommended by the spice lady in the market.  It was an interesting variation of the churros we have in the US and Mexico. The churros are designed to be dipped in the chocolate, and the chocolate is quite a bit thicker than we serve it at home.  They were delicious.

We then walked around the old town and took some pictures of the usual suspects.  Valencia has a nice large cathedral, but they were charging an admission fee so we passed.  We also looked at a couple of nice churches and some remnants of the old fortifications.  

The symbol of Valencia is a bat.  This is from the city hall.

Having walked around a bit we decided it was time to have some Paella.  Valencia has its own version of Paella that includes chicken, rabbit and chick peas. We wandered past 15 or 20 restaurants before settling on a place. We did good in picking the restaurant, there was some confusion as we understood that we would get to pick a first course each from a list of 3 first courses, and one of the main courses.  We had decided to go with a seafood paella and a Valencia paella for the main course, but when Ron went to pick the 1st courses  the guy explained in his best English that we did not get to pick.  We were a little confused until he brought out all three 1st courses, we did not get to pick because we got them all.  By the time we were done we were completely stuffed.

On the way to Valencia we had met an English couple Patrick and Jessie.  They had given us some good tips.  We happened to meet them walking back to the campground, and ended up joining them for drinks at the campground bar.  One thing led to another and we ended up in their RV where they filled our brains with information about Spain, and Ron tried to convince them to come to the US for a vacation.  It was a great way to end a good day.

August 21, 2018 Valencia SP

After a night of sleeping in howling winds and a couple of showers we began to feel for the first time that time was against us.  Since the weather was supposed to be similar to yesterday we decided to spend the day driving.  We want to visit Valencia and Barcelona before we leave Spain so we decided to make the leap to Valencia.  Today we covered nearly 450 km’s which is the longest drive we have ever taken in Europe.

Even though we were on the equivalent of an interstate, there were interesting forts periodically along the way.

The roads were good so we made the drive in a little over 5 hours.  Since it was Sunday we did not have many options for going out, so we just hunkered down.  While taking an evening walk we ran into another British guy who was full timing.  We had a nice talk with him, and received some tips for the next trip.

When we left it felt like we had more than enough time to see all of Spain.  Now we are in the position of having to make hard choices about what to see and we feel like we are  missing out on some good places.

Valencia is famous for it’s Oranges, and we passed miles of orange trees along the way.

October 20, 2018 Aguamarga SP

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.

Miles and miles of fields covered with white plastic to protect the tomatos and chilis.  Sometimes the only break in the plastic were the towns. 

October 19, 2018 Malaga SP

The aire we are staying at is owned by a Spanish/British couple who are RV’ers’ 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.

Two of the cruise ships in port, the one in the foreground is a normal sized one, the one in the background is the largest we have ever seen.

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.

Typical Spanish “street” scene.

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.

Interior courtyard of the Picasso Museum.

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.

Some of the many Sherries for sale.

We ended the evening sitting around with the owner of the aire and two English couples where we were given some excellent advice about travel.  Malaga was another great stop, we can see why people flock to the Costa del Sol.

October 18, 2018 Torre del Bengalbon SP

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.

A selection of legs of ham.  Every grocery in Spain has these on display.
If you do not have room for a whole ham, you can get some sliced for you.
A small shop in a village which is not large enough to have a grocery.  Note the fresh peppers hanging on the shelves.
Most groceries have a large seafood section.  Unfortunately we do not have the ability to do fresh fish.

October 17, 2018 Gibraltar UK

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).

The Rock of Gibraltar from the Spanish side.

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.

An interior shot of St. Michaels Cave.

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.

Ron and Ton  and two Macaques. A second or two after this photo the one behind Ron  jumped the one in front.  The mountain across the water in the background is in Africa.

The last stop were some man made caves facing Spain.  These were military emplacements, though they have not been in action since 1760.  

One of the caves drilled during WWII by Canadian engineers.

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.  

While we were on top this plane took off, they only get about 5 flights a day, and it is considered one of the most difficult commercial airports in the world to fly into.
Sometimes François spends the night in a storage yard under a train track, and sometimes in a beautiful marina with the Rock of Gibraltar behind him.

October 16, 2018 Rota SP

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.

One of the white pueblos of Andalusia with the Cathedral in the center, and an Arab fort in the mist on the right side.  We are going to be tempted to double back into this area.
Cotton fields as we approached Rota.

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.

Part of the fish corral of Rota.
Our first Atlantic sunset in over 30 years.

October 15, 2018 Granada SP

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.

The old Arab silk market in Granada, now devoted to tourist stuff.

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.

There were quite a few feral cats in the gardens.

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.

The detail of the ceramic walls is really great.
A reflecting pool leading into the throne room.
Windows with inscriptions from the Koran below them.  
Each of these Lions is unique, and three different groups of artist were commissioned to do them when the fountain was built to add to the variety.
It is rare for human figures to be shown in Islamic Art, this is one of only three examples in the palace.  Apparently it is a story about a Christian Knight and a Moslem Knight competing for the same woman, the Moslem Knight won the girl.

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.

View of the town from the palace.
This tile was among a set imbedded in a stair case.  We are not sure if it is original or a replica.

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.

A fountain from the pleasure palace.

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.

October 14, 2018 Granada SP

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.

It was still dark when we pulled out of Seville.

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.

October 13, 2018 Seville SP

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.

Ton’s hometown in Thailand is famous for it’s horse carriages.  Ton said the sound of the horses hooves reminded her of home.

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.  

Blue has a special meaning in Islam associated with being transported to heaven.
The plaster work was incredibly intricate, and covered a huge area in the palace.
In addition to the plaster work, there was intricate tile work on both the walls and floors.
It is hard to capture the scale and detail of the rooms in the palace.

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.

Our seafood platter.

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.