CÁDIZ

Brian has been looking forward to visiting Cádiz for a long time.                                                               

This is where in the Age of Discovery, Christopher Columbus sailed from on his voyage to discover America. It was home of the Spanish Armada, and from where the ruthless Cortés and his conquistadors sailed from to conquer the Aztecs.

Jutting out into the Bay of Cádiz and almost surrounded by water with only one land exit, Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe. 

                                                                                                                It has seen turbulent times as well, the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors were all here, then attacked, blockaded and looted by the English, and burnt to the ground by the Dutch.  Cádiz has been continually inhabited for more than 3000 years.

storks

We stayed on the opposite side of the harbour at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a quiet little town and caught the ferry over to Cádiz.

One of the things I noticed about the old town is that it feels lived in, not at all touristy. Paint peels of the brightly coloured buildings, and in those built from the local stone you can still see traces of shells.   Grand terrace houses three and four stories high flank the cobbled streets, but it’s not dirty and dark, it feels friendly.

We always look for the market, and Cádiz has a great Mercado.  The array of fresh seafood including the largest tuna I have ever seen was astonishing. 

opening fresh oysters

We tried the most amazing snack, tortilla de camarones, which is wheat and chickpea flour, onion, parsley, prawns and a little salt deep fired until it’s crispy around the edges and soft and juicy in the centre, my mouth is watering now as I write about them.   They make a similar tortilla using sea anemone, tomorrow I’ll give that a try.

We hug the coastline between Rota and Chipione staying in small beachside parking areas of the seasonal chiringuito’s, which are basically beach bars, usually only open during the summer.                                  

Some spots are quiet with only a couple of MH’s around, and some like the one we are at now are like a fiesta.

                                                                                                                           Most of the population here live in apartments, so come Friday afternoon the Spanish start heading away from their city apartments to weekend places like the coast with motorhomes, caravans, dogs and lots of kids.  

It never seems to get out of hand though, nobody gets drunk and obnoxious, the kids wander around together, it’s just like a huge family weekend party.

I enjoy the local sherry from Jerez, and Brian a glass of vino tinto as we watch the beautiful sunsets from our spot right at the beach.

Park National de Doñana and El Rocio-one of Spain’s strangest towns.

The National park is one of Europe’s largest and most important wetland reserves for bird species.  It is a major site for migrating birds, with flamingos staying here at present.  It is also home to a rare eagle, fallow deer and is the last refuge for the Iberian Lynx, one of Europe’s rarest mammals, with 60 pairs living in the park.

Entry to the Park is strictly controlled to ensure minimal impact on the animals, and you must use an official guided tour.  If we were assured that we would see a lynx it would have been worth the price, but these shy animals are nocturnal, living in the scrub and hunting ducks and rabbits.  So instead we find the closest town that borders the park and stay there, hoping to catch a glimpse of….well anything wild really.

EL ROCIO

Staying here the idea was to see flamingos or possibly some other wild animal that escaped from Doñana National Park next door, what we didn’t expect to find was a town right out of a Wild West movie.

Horse-drawn carriages are popular with the locals, and you’ll see them trotting about the streets going about their business throughout the day, even the local hearse is horse-drawn.     

There are wooden hitching posts in front of most houses and buildings so people can tie up their horses, it’s easier than parking a car.

The roads are all sand or dirt, and the road rules seem a bit more flexible here. There are no road markings, street signs or traffic lights, and you’re more likely to come face to face with a carriage or a rider on a horse than another car.  It appears the 21st century hasn’t arrived here yet.

cowboy Brian

But come in May-June and this place is a whole lot different,  over 1 million, yes that’s not a typo, 1 million people arrive here on horseback, oxen-drawn carriages or on foot for the annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgin del Rocio.

It’s a huge fiesta then with food, fireworks, music, flamenco dancing, (I wondered why there were beautiful flamenco dresses for sale).

So, if you’re looking for a little of the ‘wild west’ or need a new flamenco dress or beautiful riding boots, make sure you visit El Rocio.

COSTA de la LUZ or THE COAST of LIGHT

The two hundred kilometres of Atlantic coastline that start at the Straits of Gibraltar and ends at the Portuguese border feels more like Australia to us than anywhere else we have found in Europe.

Deserted white sand beaches, surfers, sand dunes, surf shops, and cafés, this is how I remember the south coast of NSW as a teen.

The difference here is not too far behind those lovely beaches are the pueblos blancos, or whitewashed hill towns so typical of Andalusia.

TARIFA

Tarifa is located on the Costa de la Luz on the southernmost point of mainland Europe, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.                                                                                               

The old town is still very much a fishing village and was the first point of the European invasion by the Moors in 711 AD.  The town has been conquered and re-conquered many times since, but the Moorish influence remains in the architecture, with the whitewashed houses surrounded by castellated city walls and labyrinthine layout of the old town.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Fishing was once the main industry of Tarifa, but now it’s the ‘wind sport’ of kitesurfing and windsurfing that has given the town a huge economic boost.  With an average of 300 windy days per year, you can understand why it has taken off.

Everywhere there are kite surf schools and shops selling all the gear, boutique hotels for the rich and so many places along the sandy coastline where you can just pull in and park, as we did.

The last time we were in Tarifa was in 2009 when we were here for only a few days, waiting to catch the ferry to Morocco.

We have great memories of the couple of months we spent in Morocco, of meeting our wonderful German friends the Wendl’s, the food, camel rides in the Sahara, visits to the Hammam for a good wash, and the souks for the bargains and food.   So rather than tarnish those memories by going back again, we will continue further west along Spain’s lovely wild southern coastline, and just look at Morocco and the northern coast of Africa from afar.

Morocco is in the background

THREE KINGS PARADE or the CABALGATA de REYES MAGO – January 5th

The tradition says that the three kings, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, followed a star that showed them the way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  They offered three gifts, gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Three Kings Parade is an essential part of Spain’s Christmas, and one of the most magical nights of the year for the children.

After watching the parade, the children go home and place their shoes in a handy spot for the Kings to see them, if they have been good all year they will receive gifts next to their shoes, if not it may only be a lump of coal.

this cream-filled cake is eaten at night after the parade

The arrival of the Three King’s Day, January 6th, marks the end of the Christmas holidays in Spain.

CAPE TRAFALGAR

Who knew that the Battle of Trafalgar took place off the coast of Spain?

Cape Trafalgar lighthouse

It’s another of those locations like Waterloo that we learned about at school or have since read about but possibly never knew the exact location.

Well, today we visited the place where this famous battle took place on the South Western coast of Spain, just south of Cadiz.

off Cape Trafalgar

Now comes the history so if you’re bored already, I’m sorry and just skip this next bit, but I think that history is interesting.

On the 21st October 1805, as Napoleon and his armies were trying to conquer Europe, Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, commanding the British Fleet devised an ambitious plan of attack, which involved ambushing the Franco-Spanish fleet off the Cape of Trafalgar in southwest Spain.

Although the British were vastly outnumbered, Nelson’s ingenious plan of sailing towards the Franco-Spanish fleet in two long columns, plowing through the formations splitting the divisions into thirds worked. After many hours of fighting and huge casualties on both sides, including Lord Nelson receiving mortal musket shots to the shoulder and chest.                                                                  

Nelson’s last words are said to have been, “Now I am satisfied.  Thank God I have done my duty”.  His body was then placed for preservation into a cask of brandy, for transportation back to England.

The battle was a decisive victory for the British and ended France’s reign as a naval superpower.

HMS Victory

You can visit the HMS Victory at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard in England. It is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

GUERNSEY FRIENDS

We catch up with Sharon and Steve who are from Guernsey, and like us have bought a motorhome and are traveling full time.                                                                                                                                              It was our lucky day after one of the Tour de France races in 2018 when Steve and Sharon, Marsha and Dave, and Brian and I all decided to stay the night in a small aire in the Pyrenees, now we are friends for life.    As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not only the fantastic countries you visit and exciting things you see, it’s the great people you meet along the way that really make traveling such a wonderful experience.

Steve and Sharon have parked up on a “piece of wasteland” in Steve’s words, we called it a “gypsy camp” but it is cheap and quiet, has a restaurant/bar and it’s only a short walk to the town of Fuengirola.

And where else can you go where a rider on a horse can just ride through and get served a beer?

I had been hanging out for fish and chips for ages, so when thinking of a place for dinner, and Sharon mentioned the local ‘chippy’ called the Crispy Cod, dinner was quickly decided, and it was delicious!

All too soon it was time to leave our Guernsey friends, but the road continues West towards Portugal, and now we have started the countdown until we leave for Canada in March, and then home late April.

GIBRALTAR

Widely known as “The Rock” or “Gib” as the locals call it, Gibraltar is a small peninsula on the southern coast of what looks like should be Spain, and at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Basically, the country that you see looming over you as you drive into the country, is the country, all  6.5sq km of it, with about 30,000 residents who live at the base of its 426m high monolith.

Gibraltar is a unique place with loads of history, in fact about 100,000 years of history, from the Neanderthals that fished the shoreline and lived in the limestone caves, to Phoenicians and Romans, the long inhabiting Moors, and then the fighting between the French, Spanish and British, all claiming possession at one time or another.                                                                                                                 

Now Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom after being signed over to Britain ‘in perpetuity’ in 1713.

All those wars for possession and sieges have left “The Rock” with an amazing legacy of 50kms of bombproof tunnels that are still used to this day to monitor shipping movements in the busy Straits of Gibraltar, a military training area for underground warfare, and also as a secure store for online data management.                                                                                                                                            

And home to a colony of 160 Barbary Macaque apes, the only wild monkey population on the European continent.

There is an old superstition that if the Apes leave the Rock, the British will go as well.

NEW YEAR’S EVE

It’s hard to believe that this night has come around so soon, as it seems no time since we were in cold and snowy Strasbourg this time last year.

This year instead of the French Bonne année it will be the Spanish Feliz año nuevo!                                   

We started New Year’s Day camping on the beach at Balengra surround by a few German motorhomes, then as the breeze picked up mid-afternoon, we decided a move to a smaller sheltered cove near Castell de Ferro would be better, and that is where we met Catriona, Sol, and their two lovely children Morgan and Alwyn, all the way from Ireland.                                                                                     

They were great company for New Year’s Eve, lots of laughs and a  great deal of Cava and Vouvray was consumed, but I have to admit that Brian and I only made it to about 11pm before we called it a night and headed back to Hermione.

New Year’s Day was sunny and beautiful and time for us to move a little further West along what is known as Spain’s Costa Tropical, towards Malaga.

We watched a couple of guys on Jestsurf boards that looked pretty interesting.  We haven’t seen anything like these in Australia, but I’m sure they’re available.                                                                                                   

The Andalusian coastline here has high cliffs that run right down to small secluded sandy coves, with only a small strip of land for the road, housing and a little agriculture before the spectacular Sierra mountain range looms high behind.

Those mountains are always a real draw for us, but we also know that once we climb away from the coast it will be cold at night, 0c or less, so we keep to the coast enjoying the warm 18c – 24c winter days, and 10c or so at night, much like our winter weather at home.

GRIFFON VULTURES of CASARES

We leave the Costa de Sol at Manilva for the day and head up into the hills of the Sierra Bermeja to try and find the colony of Griffon Vultures we have heard about.

With their dark brown bodies, hairy looking cape around their necks and bald looking white heads Griffon Vultures are not the best-looking specimens of the bird kingdom.                                                

But in the air with their necks pulled in, their huge wingspan of up to 2.8 metres across, and with their wing feathers splayed they soar the thermals and look almost graceful as they circle above the rugged landscape of dry shrubbery and craggy rocks.

It was mesmerizing to watch them take off from the rocks behind the lookout, some floating only what seemed like metres above our heads. 

We watched a group of around 25 gathers just down the hillside to bathe in an old bathtub, afterwards, they stood with their magnificent wings outstretched to dry.

CHRISTMAS with GOOD FRIENDS in TORREVIEJA

The long stretches of sandy beaches and the warmer temperatures have been bringing people to this area for a long time.

The reason we decide to spend Christmas in Torrevieja is because of our good friends, David and Marshy Moo will be there.

                                                                                                                                           We met last year at The Tour de France and have been fortunate to have caught up again a couple of times since.

Christmas Eve was busy.  First up was the line dance lesson that Marsha talked me into, it was quite a hoot as most of the ladies in the class have been line-dancing for years, so just trying to keep up was a workout for me.  After an hour of trying to follow the steps I just gave up and had my own little free dance.                                                                                                                                             In the evening there was a pre-Christmas party with a group of lovely people from the campsite that Marsha and Dave have met since they arrived.

Christmas Day was warm and sunny and at La Zenia beach in Torrevieja there is a huge party, and I mean huge!  Our conservative estimate was about 4000 people there. There was entertainment all day from two different stages, and many dressed as Santa, or in other Christmas attire from reindeer antlers to skimpy shiny red vinyl hotpants with matching knee-length boots and sparkly tops with plunging necklines, it was all there.

The organized people bought bbq’s, tables, folding chairs, and Esky’s full of cold refreshments.  Food-wise we saw everything from hamburgers and sausages being cooked on the bbq’s to a full leg of delicious Iberian ham on its own rack being finely sliced and served with fresh salads.

Dave had suggested that we cycle down to the beach as we would never find a parking place big enough for either of our motorhomes.                                                                                                             Now I did know we had driven for about ten minutes out through town to reach the campsite that sits on a hill overlooking the coast, what I didn’t know was that by the end of Christmas Day I would have cycled a total of 21.5kms, that includes one section that Dave and Marsha fondly call, heart attack hill!                                                               

Both Marsha and Dave a very good cyclists and promised me that we would all take it nice and slow, and I was very grateful that Dave set his spare bike up for me at the ‘granny gearing’ level that would make my ride a little easier, too bad I forgot to attach a pillow to that razor blade he calls a seat.

Anyway, all went well, and we did have some stops along the way as promised. After our ride down, and a walk along the very crowded beach to check out all the revelers we headed up to beach bar for a little sit down (for me) and some well-earned refreshments.

Thankfully our ride back home was split into two sections, first stop the Sunny Corner Bar to meet up with Jan and Joss for a refreshing cider for me, and beers all around for the others, then a short ride to our chosen location for our non-traditional but very delicious Christmas lunch at the local Chinese restaurant.                                                                                               

So definitely a different Christmas for us this year, but also a very enjoyable one spent with great friends on the Costa Blanca in Spain.

Five days after we arrived in Torrevieja Brian was getting itchy feet, so after a few tears, we leave Marshy Moo and Dave and move further south towards Almeria.                                                                       Almeria is not our favourite area in Spain, the coastline here is infamous for its ‘Sea of Plastic,’ the massive fruit and vegetable production area that supplies most of Northern Europe and the UK.                                                                                                         

To escape the plastic we try one night in the hills of the lower Sierra’s, but waking to a 1c frosty morning drives us back towards the warmer coastline, so we try to not to focus too much at the plastic hothouses, find a great local restaurant that offers and three-course meal and unlimited wine for €10 each, and in another day or so will be in the lovely old city of Malaga.  

COSTA BLANCA

Most of the towns along this coast were founded by the Phoenicians, became prosperous under the Moors, and some like Xativa destroyed in Spanish War.  To this day a full-length portrait of King Felipe V (who set fire to the village) hangs upside-down in their town hall as their mark of revenge.

Again, this is an area we have previously driven straight past, but good friends Rose and Arthur from Scotland, are in Benidorm for the winter so for them we will make an exception.

Some of the smaller coastal villages are really quite nice, we stay the first night on the Costa Blanca in Javea which thankfully still has the feel of the fishing port it was in the ’50s, due to councils decision many years ago to not allow high rises along the beachfront.

Benidorm’s sandy playa (beach) has a long promenade with restaurants and bars and the town boasts more accommodation than any other resort on the Mediterranean coast.  Apparently, there is even a British TV show about Brits abroad that features Benidorm.                                                                 

During the winter it fills with who we Aussie’s would call Grey Nomads, retirees from the North, mainly Brits, Germans, Swedes, and the Dutch, seeking the sun and warmer climes.

We spent a couple of days in Benidorm, with our expert tour guides Rose and Arthur who have been spending the winter here for many years.  We’re looking forward to repaying their hospitality when they next visit Australia.

VALENCIA-the CITY of ARTS and SCIENCES

Valencia is another of those large cities we have always avoided, but Caroline at our housesit in Castres had mentioned a complex of architecturally stunning buildings in the centre of the city.          Most cities are difficult to drive around in a motorhome, but Valencia has lovely wide avenues and we lucked out with free parking a five-minute walk from the park.

Situated in a former riverbed the City of Arts and Sciences is made up of four buildings, a science museum that resembles a whale’s skeleton. A planetarium/IMAX theatre that looks like a giant eye and water lily-shaped open-air aquarium that claims to be the largest in Europe.                                      

The last building is the Opera House, a soaring glass structure that is reminiscent of our Sydney Opera House with its wings and shape.  

All of these buildings are surrounded by shallow pools of water, so they seem to float across a giant blue lake.                                                                                                                      

An elevated walkway that is like a botanical garden on steroids, complete with sculptures by Yoko Ono and several contemporary Spanish artists cleverly disguise the covered parking.                                                                

It was such a well-designed area that even on a Monday morning had loads of people running, cycling or just walking through it, enjoying the sun and the sights just like us.

MORELLA

The weather God has remembered that it’s sunny Spain, and not cold and dreary Spain and we are finally starting to feel like our old selves again, so it’s time to explore the ancient walled town of Morella.

Built on a high isolated outcrop and crowned by a ruined castle, my first look at Morella from the distant valley reminded me a little of Mont St Michel in Brittany, although Morella is surrounded by terraced hillsides and oak forests rather than water.

The commanding height of Morella at over 1000m was chosen as a frontier fortress many centuries ago by the crusading warlords of the Templar Knights, and the Knights of the Order of Montesa. Two thousand five hundred metres of walled battlements were erected around the town to serve as its defense, with entrance through only six heavily armed gates. Inside those walls are a labyrinth of streets and steep tapering allies with Gothic arcades and porticoed shops that still serve the 3000 inhabitants of the town.                                                                                                                                                            

The Gothic Church of Santa Maria sits protected just under the castle’s fortification and is spectacular.  The golden altarpiece complete with hundreds of cherubs has been rebuilt as it was burned in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s and it has the most exquisite Baroque organ that we were fortunate to hear being played.

The mountainous area of El Maestrat is a world away from the busy coastal strip and has always been an important part of Spain as it straddles the border between Valencia and Aragón, with evidence of human life here for over 600,000 years.

We are here over the long weekend Dec 6th holiday of Constitution Day, which marks the anniversary of the referendum that in 1978 passed the countries current constitution and important step in moving from under the dictatorship of Franco (he died 1975) to a democracy with Spanish Royal Family as its head.                                                                                                                                      

Most Spaniards will take a ‘bridge holiday’ (extra day off) as Dec 8th is another holiday, Immaculate Conception Day so there are many families out and about in cars and campers.  This is also the official start of the Christmas Festivities in Spain with markets and other Christmas activities.                                                 

We have not heard another English accent for quite some time, they all must be further south down on the coast enjoying the warmer weather but give me these fantastic mountains and hilltop villages any time.

THE ART of DALI

We do get to see more from the man I would personally call a genius at his aptly named Teatro-Museo (Theatre Museum) in Figueres, the town where he was born in 1904 and died in 1989.  He is buried in the museum’s crypt, located in the centre of the museum, maybe that’s why you can almost feel his presence here.                                            

The red coloured museum building topped with giant golden eggs houses the largest and most diverse collection of his works from paintings and sculptures and includes the ‘Mae West apartment’ where you look through giant lens, and only when you are in the correct position Mae West’s face appears with its weird yellow synthetic substance that to me looks scarily like Donald Trump’s hair.

It’s hard to know where to start there are so many artworks, even the building itself is special. As you enter the main gallery and the first piece that catches your eye is an immaculate black Cadillac, on which stands a 4m high voluptuous statue of the goddess Esther.                                                       

The main gallery is topped by a fantastic glass dome, called a geodesic, and on a sunny day would look spectacular. Dali’s famous melting watches painting hangs above a crazy golden bed whose four legs are made to look like weird sea serpents in another gallery. 

A new addition is the jewellery annex, with beautiful pieces made from gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, coral and three unique pieces I liked, lips shaped by rubies with beautiful little pearls for the teeth, a diamond-shaped eye surrounds a blue eye hat is a working clock, and a gold-encrusted heart shape with a beating ruby-encrusted heart.  Who else but Dali would think of something like this?                                                                                                                                                                        

If you are fortunate enough to visit Dali’s Teatro-Museum just make sure you have lots of time, there are nineteen rooms, and then the jewellery annex to visit.                                                                                                   

The next two weeks passed all in a bit of a blur.

First Brian came down with a horrible Gastro bug, and being the kind and sharing guy that he is, he passed it on to me.                                                                                                                          

I won’t go into details but will just say two people sick with Gastro in a 6m x 2.3m box on wheels is not a fun time.

(sorry the photos are smaller in this post, but my data is running low and I have sooo many posts to catch up)

SOUTH for the WINTER

It seems strange for Australian’s to ‘head south’ for the winter, but here in the Northern Hemisphere to seek the sun, and warmer weather that’s exactly what you must do.

The mountains of the Pyrenées-Orientales run as a natural border between France and Spain and this department was considered Spanish up until 1659.  Though here in the far south of France, climate and geography alone already give it the palpable feel of Spain.

Given a choice of a drive by the sea or over mountains, the mountains will always draw me towards them first.  Though after a few days navigating circuitous mountain roads, and chilly nights sleeping in the shadows of ruined Cathar Castles, we make our way a little further south, slowly edging our way to the warmer coast and Spain.  

The foothills of the Pyrenées dip their toes into the pristine water of the Mediterranean at the pretty French village of Collioure, on what is called the Côte Vermeille or Vermilion Coast because of its red rock outcrops.

                                                                                                                                           Against a backdrop of vineyards that seem to be pinched between the mountains and the sea, it’s not hard to imagine why Matisse and Picasso, spent so much time in this area of tiny fishing ports with their soft pastel-colored houses and rocky bays.

The transition from France to Spain was only noted by a signpost, and the noticeably cheaper price of fuel, groceries and best of all, wine!

Spain or Catalonia?

Catalan flag
Official Spanish flag

With its own language, Catalan, culture, flag and its own semiautonomous regional government Catalunya or Catalonia in English has a unique identity.  It is also one of Spain’s wealthiest, and most productive regions, and by the protest signs, demonstrations this region of nearly 7.5 million people are still fighting hard for their independence.

Dali statue in his home town

We enter Spain or Catalonia near Cadaqué, the pretty whitewashed village on the Costa Brava (Rugged Coast) where Salvador Dali vacationed as a child, and close to the tiny fishing village of Portlligat where Dali lived from 1930 until the death of his muse and wife Gala, in 1982.  The house started as a one-room fisherman’s hut, and little by little over the course of forty years the couple enlarged and extended it to the rambling house it is today.  Dali described the house “as like a true biological structure, each new pulse in our life has its own new cell, a room”.                                                                             Sadly, we didn’t get to visit the house as it’s essential to reserve tickets in advance for the small, eight-person private tour, but I do have some pics of the outside.                                                                                                              

If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area, I would definitely recommend making that booking

Did you know that Salvador Dali apart from creating over 1500 paintings held his first exhibition at only 15 years old?  He also created thousands of artworks, directed films, wrote a book or two and made his fortune from commercial posters, much like Toulouse Lautrec, the French painter born in the city of Albi that we visited, and his museum only recently.  Lautrec died in 1901, only in his forties, it’s a shame I’m sure he and Dali would have got on well.