Week 17 of the Grand European Tour
Week 17 – Day 116 – Monday 22nd of January 2018
Granada – 0 miles
Where do i start? Some time ago actually with 2 TV series that I found fascinating. The first was a huge surprise to me as the presenter, Alex Pelozzi was not that well known to me apart from her series, The Hotel Inspector, but she fronted a 6 part Channel 5 series called Spectacular Spain on the Spanish regions and I found it exceptionally well made and interesting. The other series was Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Blood and Gold where he embarked on a fascinating journey to unlock 2,000 years of Spain’s history and although this was slightly more heavyweight, it was still entertaining. Both of these series featured Granada, and in particular The Alhambra Palace which looked simply stunning on TV, and, dear blog reader I have to confess, if this is not one of the top 5 places to visit in the whole wide world then I would eat my bunnet (Scottish for flat cap) if I had one.
I described in the last blog how we arrived here yesterday afternoon to the camping site Reina Isabel at La Zubia, an easy to find suburb of Granada. The site can best be described as ‘quirky’ and comparitively expensive, a bit ‘tired’, having hardly had its facilities upgraded since its inception in 1961. That said, the bus into Granada stops right outside the gates and for €1.50 the bus whisks you into the city centre in no time. The Alhambra is high on a hill a fair distance away, certainly not walkable so we headed to another square after the bus dropped us off to catch a mini bus for the next leg of the journey when a ‘mishap’ occurred. The Auld Yin (Scottish for Auld Yin) tripped and fell all her length. Taking a few seconds to come to, I got her up on her Bambi legs onto a nearby bench.
After a drink (soft) and a reassurance she was OK to continue I decided to blow €5 on a nearby taxi to take us the rest of the way which in the end was good value. When we had arrived at the campsite the guy there offered to buy our entrance tickets to The Alhambra for us but said we needed to transfer money from our bank account which would incur fees etc etc. Now a lifetime in Sales has taught me one thing, if nothing else – ‘you can’t kid a kidder’ and I declined his kind offer and within the hour after setting up I had purchased 2 tickets online using my credit card with no issues and no fees.
This moves the story to us at the entrance to The Alhambra and I will leave todays blog entry there. Why I hear you all cry out with one voice? Well this place is simply so stunning and ‘mind blowing’ to quote The Navigator that it deserves its very own blog post to do it justice and after the muck up with the GoPro at Cartagena I made no mistakes this time and took tons of film, far too much for a 123 Seconds In…, more like 1,230 seconds so look out for that in the future as well.
Week 17 – Day 117 – Tuesday 23rd of January 2018
Granada – 0 miles
The Navigator thought today was better weatherwise than yesterday but there was not a lot in it. After a good nights sleep and a bit of a lie in it was back on the bus and into Granada this morning for a day in the city. The first half hour or so wasn’t too inspiring, in fact I did not even take the GoPro out of the backpack once, but there was one triumph early on in that The Navigator managed to step over, and not trip on the rock that made her take a ‘heider’ (Scottish for head first tumble) yesterday. Things began to look up when I found the big wooden door to what must be admitted is a fairly nondescript building from the outside, but anything built in the 1500s must be worth a look inside surely.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not religious but I do appreciate architecture, craftsmanship and mans incredible ability to create works of art that stop you in your tracks and the Inglesia de San Antón had it all, and more. The inside was simply breathtaking and no picture can adequately do the scale and opulence justice. I left The Navigator sitting with her thoughts and had a wander round taking in 500 years of history and marvelling at the religious devotion that created such wonderful artefacts.
The church had a steady stream of visitors, most depositing a euro in a box for a little electric candle to come on in front of an ornately decorated alcove featuring, not a religious figure, but a man with a sword!
We were now in the city centre proper with lots of individual shops, very few chain stores and surprisingly not a single McDonalds, Burger King or KFC was seen in about 5 hours of walking about, not that you would starve in Granada, or any Spanish city for that matter, such is the choice of great inexpensive local food. Things were looking up in terms of the sights to be seen and the GoPro was pressed into service to record 123 Seconds In Granada.
We had lunch outdoors sitting in a pleasant square admiring our surroundings and watching people going about their business. The Navigator struck lucky as, after you have ordered your main course, the waitress brings some free tapas to nibble on until the main dish arrives and as it happened our freebie was olives and sardines, two things I do not like at all.
Both main courses were simple but very tasty and delicious, I had a ‘meat in sauce’ and when I enquired what the meat was the waitress, stuck for the English word pork, grunted like a pig. Not for the first time, The Navigator had albondigas, Spanish meatballs made with beef and pork mince and served in a quick, rich tomato sauce.
We walked past the massive Cathedral but didn’t enter although it did look impressive and probably merited the €5 entry fee but we had so much else still to see today. We meandered through a lot of lanes with shops selling souvenirs copying the Alhambra decoration along with other items in a North African style.
We then headed for a street called Carrera del Darro, part of the old town and directly under the Alhambra complex which towers above it.
Some guide books say this area is not safe for visitors but it was packed with tourists, maybe after dark it is a different story but we found it a very pleasant area to walk round. From here we made our way back into the city centre taking in all the magnificent buildings, fountains and well laid out streets, one of which, the pedestrianised Carrera de la Virgen leads you down to the Genil river.
There was but a trickle in it although the embankment is quite high so I would imagine the river will come hurtling down once the winter snows melt on the surrounding mountains.
Week 17 – Day 118 – Wednesday 24th of January 2018
Granada to Malaga – 104 miles
It was time to move on today back to the coast and the delights of Malaga, whatever they might be. Before that however there was one job that needed doing and that was to clean the birds mess off poor old Louis. In the summer it must be a relief to park under a shady tree to get some relief from the sun but in winter there is no advantage to being under a tree. There was a gardener on site using step ladders to trim back the bushes dividing the pitches and I found where he kept his stash of ladders and borrowed a pair (why do we call it a pair?) to try and get the worst off. One mess in particular was particularly off-putting as some sort of large bird, and I’m guessing a pigeon, was rather ill on the skylight covering a fair proportion of it in a purplish hue. Copious amounts of Cif and elbow grease got the worst of it off and a later jet wash finished the job.
From Granada the dual carriage-way heads west before the descent south to the coast. I mentioned before that Granada was 2,500 feet above sea level and there were a few more climbs to tackle which Louis took in his stride. One of the very odd things on this stretch of the drive was every petrol station and services selling ferry tickets from Spain to the north African countries with the sea as far as 70 miles away, a bit like selling ferry tickets from Portsmouth from north of the M4.
The agriculture on view beside the road and for miles around was nearly all olive trees, both randomly sited and also in huge areas of regimented rows, obviously to enable mechanical harvesting. Still no sightings of cows, pigs or sheep, not a single one!
The descent to the coast is steep and long and needs a fair amount of restraint. It would be easy to let rip and come down at speed but Louis is just over 3.8 tons so gentle and steady braking is called for in situations like this. Once we descended into Malaga we decided to stop for lunch before heading for the Aire and the easiest place to get parked just off the main road was at a Burger King, our first of the trip, where we indulged ourselves with 2 bacon cheese burgers meals for the princely sum of €5. That is in total, not each!
If you look at the WEBSITE of Malaga Beach Area you see an arial view showing less than 10 vans parked up.
That was taken back in July on the day it opened but today we were lucky to get in as they were just short of the 100 van capacity when we arrived. It is €10 a night and another €3 a night for electricity which I declined thinking it was a bit of a rip off as the total bill for 5 weeks of electricity at El Campello was €9.
Later in the afternoon we walked into the adjoining village of La Cala de Moral for some shopping at SuperSol, a new supermarket on us, not the best to be fair.
Week 17 – Day 119 – Thursday 25th of January 2018
Malaga – 0 miles
It was warm but a bit blustery and after a busy few days sightseeing and travelling we thought, or rather The Navigator thought, the van needed a tidy up and some laundry cleaned so that took up most of the morning. After lunch the bikes were pressed into service and we exited the site straight onto the coastal cycle path which stretches from Malaga, some 9km to the right, which was deemed too far for an afternoon so we headed to the left. The large village / small town of La Cala de Moral was only about 100 yards away so we cycled along the top of the beach which was compacted for the cycle path as the tiled esplanade is signposted for pedestrians only. The main street with the shops etc was 2 rows back from the esplanade which was just low quality housing for the locals, no hotels or swanky holiday homes here. There were a couple of bars along the front but that was about the sum of the commercial activity, Benidorm it wasn’t although to be fair it was a good beach, if the sand was a little dark. At the end of the beach the path climbed towards a rocky promintary which I thought would take us to a viewpoint looking out to sea and back over the village / town.
How wrong was I, as not only was there a viewpoint but also the start of 3 tunnels to continue our cycle to the next bay and the larger town of Rincon de la Victoria where again you cycled on the compacted sand at the top of the beach.
There were more people walking about and sitting at the more numerous restaurants which had a feature that The Navigator would like and later take advantage of, sardines being grilled on the beach in ‘boats’ made of aluminium turned into giant barbecues. I was just there to make up the numbers as I only had a nibble at a few. Not my cup of tea at all.
Week 17 – Day 120 – Friday 26th of January 2018
Malaga – 0 miles
To me, Malaga, like Alicante, was more famous for the gateway airports than the cities themselves. You fly into Alicante to go to Benidorm or one of the other Costa Blanca resorts, and you fly into Malaga to go to one of the Costa del Sol resorts like Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Marbella or Puerto Banus, but Marbella itself, surely not? Well if you have jetted into Malaga and headed for the aforementioned coastal resorts without setting foot in the city itself then you have missed out on a great place to visit.
Maybe because we knew so little about the city that we were in no real rush to get there, not leaving the Aire until just before noon. The bus whisks you the 9km into Malaga along the coastal dual carriageway in about 15 minutes and drops you right in the centre near a big open plaza. On the other side of the street is the harbour and marina where we would end our day. When we had booked into the Malaga Beach Area the guy there gave us maps and took the time to explain the circular route to take when we got off the bus which would take us past the main shopping street full of up-market shops with narrow lanes leading off with bars, restaurants and pavement cafes everywhere and a very visible police presence, not only of the patrolling local police, but the machine gun carrying national police as well.
The woman in the centre is wearing a fur trimmed coat and I’ve got my shorts and sandals on – to me 60 odd degrees is summer and to the locals it is winter! Following the map led us onto the area around the impressive and massive Cathedral which we had a look inside to see the scale of, but didn’t venture in as we did not have the time to do it justice. From there the route takes you past the Roman remains of a theatre and tiered seating overlooking a stage, very similar in layout, if slightly smaller than the structure up the coast at Cartagena.
Close to the Roman remains are some restaurants including our favourite inexpensive eatery, first discovered at El Campello, 100 Montaditos where we had a great little lunch of 5 of their little tapas like sandwiches which mostly cost a euro each, a plate of chips with 4 sauces and 2 soft drinks for the bargain price of €9.30.
If you did venture down some of the side streets you will find some individual and more intimate little cafe bars offering their great value “menu del Dia” (Menu of the Day). Most cafes will display their daily menu outside on a chalk board and for as little as €8 feast on a traditional Spanish meal of starter, main course and dessert, usually with bread and a glass of wine or beer included, such a contrast to the far more expensive places we came across in France.
After lunch we continued wandering about, going off piste if we saw an interesting looking lane, and there were lots of those, and it was pleasant walking about in the sunshine although The Navigator had a real problem with the temperature only being 13 degrees and claiming that as I was only one of a handful of people in the whole city in shorts and sandals I must be chittered (Scottish for shivered), which I wasn’t in the least.
Just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral in the historic centre stands the impressive Alcazaba Moorish Fortress with fantastic views over the port and city. Like the Alhambra in Granada it too has lovely courtyards and gardens with intricate tiles and little water channels and you can imagine what life was like in the 11th century. From there we headed for the harbour via some well laid out historic gardens with parakeets screeching away in the trees.
The newish waterfront area of Malaga has been well laid out with a great selection of restaurants and bars catering for all tastes including an Argentinian meat restaurant called ‘Angus’ ideally placed right next to the cruise ship terminal.
There is a Pompidou art centre at the port as well as La Noria, Malaga’s own version of the London eye. Added to which there is a great beach, although the sand is quite dark and not the bright sandy colour you expect on a beach.
As if all of the above was not enough to entertain you in Malaga it is also famous for being Pablo Picasso’s birth place and there is a city centre museum with over 250 pieces of art donated by Picasso’s family members which we did not have time to see either.
Malaga was a great surprise to us and, although we spent more time in Alicante, Malaga, to me, wins as a destination for a city break between the two. For motorhomers it is now well served by the recently opened, and very busy motorhome Malaga Beach Aire.
Week 17 – Day 121 – Saturday 27th of January 2018
Malaga to Estepona – 73miles
It was a very windy morning which always gets The Navigator apprehensive about the drive ahead today. After paying for our stay and servicing the van we set off on the Autovia de Mediterano again which skirts around Malaga, but in doing so takes you inland into the hills and over high viaducts and through tunnels which the Spanish seem to be pretty good at building, never letting hills, mountains and deep valleys block the path of their main roads.
Originally the thought was to head for Gibraltar but I’ve never been a fan of arriving anywhere on a Saturday as its a bit of a waste of the day, plus the following day is usually a quiet as the Spanish treat a Sunday as a family day or a day to walk and recharge their batteries for the coming week, whereas we Brits place more emphasis on the religion of consumerism than actual religion. Can you imagine every single supermarket, DIY store or out of town shopping complex closed, well thats what happens here in Spain, and guess what, it works for them where in the UK there would be an outcry of epic proportions if that was introduced. Gib being British will probably be open on a Sunday just to annoy the Spanish though!
We drove down the coast bypassing Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Marbella and Puerto Banús before coming off the dual carriageway at Estepona and heading for the marina where there is a car park listed on the Park4Night App where you can wildcamp for free. We found it no problem thanks to the ever efficient (real) navigator on Google Maps and then I had a bit of a confrontation with a couple of locals, well, one in particular. As I approached the car park I was flagged down by a man who indicated I had to pay him.
I quickly sussed by his appearance and manner that he was a sober (at the moment) drunk trying to earn a few euros for his Saturday night. I, not very subtly, declined the offer to part with my hard earned and drove on to where there were other motorhomes parked. He proceeded to follow and try again to remonstrate but his lack of English was no match for my lack of Spanish and he skulked off when I mentioned the Guardia Civil, as if I could call them and report an attempted hustle by a not very competent hustler! It seems amazing you can live in a country for almost 10 weeks and get by with Hola your only word of their lingo…
After lunch we headed past the marina and along the beach esplanade before crossing the road into the town where the shops were in the process of closing down for the Saturday afternoon siesta but the bars and restaurants were doing brisk business. There is a hill with lanes flanked by old buildings and churches and each one has different coloured flower pots, and, although it is the end of January, there is still a lot of colourful flowers and bushes in bloom so the summer months must be a riot of colour against the whitewashed Andalusian houses.
We walked back along the beach towards the marina where we met another British couple sitting on a wall.
How did we know they were British? He had shorts on and they were finishing off a picnic, very British behaviour… After a good long chat with them we returned to find Louis in one piece with the two would-be car park attendants not exacting any revenge for our failure to fund their evening.
The car park had filled up with cars (now theres a thing) and one was parked within 18 inches of us so I decided to move Louis onto some waste ground next to the car park to settle down and watch a spectacular sunset to the west and what we assumed was Gibraltar. I won’t go into the speculation and discussion that ensued on whether the big rock in the sea to our south was actually Gibraltar or not. Long story! As we sat out beside the van another Scottish couple from Ayrshire, out walking their dogs, came over for a chat. They had just pulled into the car park in their motorhome as I moved off it, so after confirming our decision to move was nothing personal, we had a lovely long chat about our respective time on the road, both back home, and here in Spain.
Week 17 – Day 122 – Sunday 28th of January 2018
Estepona to Gibraltar – 29 miles
It was a good quiet nights sleep, all the better for being free. The forecast for today is not good with strong winds and heavy rain forecast. After breakfast it was still dry, albeit chilly, grey and cloudy, so we thought we would nip out and have a walk round the Sunday market which had set up at the nearby marina.
The divergence in languages was noticeable. The stallholders were speaking Spanish, or some Arabic language, while the customers were almost all Brits. The quality of what was on offer was actually pretty good but we were not in the market for knock off handbags, trainers, clothing or jewellery, especially as the dangly earrings were above what The Navigator was prepared to pay ie €1!
As there was no fruit or veg on offer, and the rain was beginning to fall quite heavily we retreated back to the van, where I got it ready to go and The Navigator said our goodbyes to our Scottish neighbours who were also moving on, them north and us south towards Gibraltar. I deliberately didn’t say ‘to’ Gibraltar as the streets are apparently too narrow to accommodate motorhomes and there are no campsites ‘on the rock’ so we are actually parking up at a marina on the Spanish side of the border ready to walk in when the rain subsides.
It was a short drive but the rain stayed on all day so we stayed in and did bits and pieces, me typing up this blog ready to go online whenever we are connected to mains power to get the laptop working again, and The Navigator mostly knitted and caught up with her e mails.
Over the past 10 years Louis has been parked in some amazing places, mostly beside the sea, lochs and rivers with the odd town and city as well, but probably nowhere as iconic as this, with the Rock of Gibraltar right in front of us.
The binoculars cant pick up any apes but we can see that the cable-car is not running today because of the high winds. The radio is tuned into the British speaking Radio Gibraltar where Smashy and Nicey are entertaining us with hits from the past, a big contrast from the Spanish radio stations we have listened to over the past few months which is like being tuned in to a non stop Eurovision Pop Contest, with all the tracks sounding the same but different. I think I just turned into my parents there, “l don’t care if it is Tamla blooming Motown” my mother would shout up the stairs, “turn that din down!”
The Navigator has not listened to any music since James Last was in his prime so she mentally switches off when the radio is on, which is probably no bad thing as Smashy has just read out the weather forecast for tomorrow including 100km gusts. I may have to sedate her…
To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
We explore Gibraltar then start to head north towards Cadiz, Jerez and Seville…
Stay tuned to find out where we end up…
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