Week 19 of the Grand European Tour
Week 19 – Day 130 – Monday 5th February 2018
Jerez – 0 miles
Jerez, world capital of sherry and home to household brands such as Tio Pepe, Gonzales Byass, Croft and Harveys Bristol Cream was to be explored today and so armed with a city map provided by the site we jumped on the No16 bus which took us into town for €1.10, another example of Spanish transport being cheap, on time and well used.
The bus drops you off at a little square at the start of the pedestrianised zone so we started to walk from there. Having only walked about 50 yards The Navigator saw one of her favourite shops, found all over Europe (including Glasgow) called Tiger, Tiger Tiger or Flying Tiger, a Danish chain selling very cheap stylish things you never really realised you needed. The one thing we didn’t really need, but was bought anyway, was another cafetière. Regular readers of this Blog may remember how traumatised The Navigator was when her last Tiger Tiger cafetière cracked early on in this trip and we searched everywhere we stopped in Spain for a replacement until she got lucky in El Campello in a little hardware store. Suffice to say we now have 2 cafetières as €6 was deemed great value “just in case”.
Further up the street we found the main market but it was fairly deserted, this being a Monday morning after a busy weekend for the traders. A few market stalls surrounded the market building were selling cheap clothing, underwear and socks being in abundance. We wandered fairly aimlessly around the little lanes which had quite a few what are known as bazaars here, nearly all owned by Chinese, selling everything you can possibly think of, as well as things you have never thought of. The Navigator was particularly tempted by their balls of wool but was unsure whether they were able to be used on 4 ply pins as those are the only weapons she has with her apparently, so the Chinese lost out on a sale.
It was now lunchtime and this is where the fun began. As The Navigator had missed out on a slap up €8 three course lunch on Saturday in Cadiz she was determined to find somewhere in Jerez offering the same value, and so the quest began. The lady at the site had marked on our map where to find a couple of lanes that had good places to eat, but when found they did not seem to have menus of the day. 100 Montadios, our normal lunchtime favourite was found but passed by and eventually we found somewhere advertising a €10.50 menu, over budget but by this time I would have agreed to anything!
The waiter came and offered us tapas but that was refused in favour of the €10.50 menu. He was having a tough time understanding what we wanted so he left us and another waiter came but he did not have a word of English at his disposal either. After convincing him we wanted the 3 course menu of the day he went off into the building again. I should explain that we were sitting outside under 3 patio heaters as word seems to be getting out that The Navigator is continually cold, even in bright sunshine! We were discussing the events so far and now thought he had gone off to bring us the first course of a menu where we had no choice, but no, he reappeared with a hand written piece of card and he proceeded to read the choices, none of which made any sense to us. Eventually we thought we had ordered the following…
A potato salad thing for me.
A fishy thing for The Navigator.
And for the main course…
A chicken dish for me.
A fish dish for The Navigator with rice.
Thats what we thought we had ordered.
Out came the first course. My potato salad was just that, but the tastiest potato salad I have ever had. The Navigators fishy dish starter can best be described as spare rib soup with noodles and was incredibly tasty. Obviously a translation error but hey ho we could live with it. So far so good.
My main course was breaded chicken fillets and chips which was ok and The Navigators was white fish balls with salad, again no complaints and very good, washed down with a beer and a sherry (when in Jerez!).
Our waiter came out of the building put on his jacket, lit a cigarette, gave us a wave and headed away up the lane so we were back to the original waiter who spoke no English, but no problem, he only had to bring us the bill and I can use international sign language to order that. So there we were, reflecting on our language difficulties but admitting that in the end the meal was excellent, if missing the rice The Navigator thought she was getting with her main course.
Out of the building comes the original waiter with a huge big metal paella dish containing… a huge big dish of paella! We looked at each other and realised that the rice we thought was going to accompany the fishy dish was misunderstood by the waiter to be a separate course of paella. He then proceeded to lovingly stir it and serve about half of it to us, supervised by the owner who had never in all his years of restaurant ownership seen two Scottish people have the menu of the day followed directly by another lunch of Paella, a lunch in its own right.
To save face we did our best, now watched over by the waiting staff inside the building who were all lined up at the window watching us. I won’t say how much all of this cost in the end, but our children’s inheritance was severely diminished after this meal.
Consulting the map again, we headed for the cathedral and fort which are in close proximity to each other. The fort was closed and didn’t look up to much anyway and the cathedral, built in the 17th century, is a mix of the Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles and is another very impressive building, but surprisingly was only elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1980. We didn’t go in to see if the interior matched the decoration of the exterior as €6 ahead was deemed a tad too much.
That said, I almost forgot to mention that we had in fact been in a church near the market building just before lunch. It was well decorated and maintained, most of the walls painted white which was brightened by light poring in from windows just below the roof line. The focal pint of the church was an intricately carved (wood? or plaster?) gold wall from floor to ceiling.
Although it was the focal point, the few people who were in the building were all concentrating on a statue of Jesus towards the back of the church which was interesting for being one of the very few I have seen that had real looking hair and, it had a shaft of light shining down from one of the roof windows illuminating the statue’s face. There was a photographer there and he must have taken over 100 pictures of it so we weren’t sure if this was a rare event or not. Another gentleman tried to explain to us the significance of this event but out Spanish (Hola) fell short of understanding what he was saying. His face lit up however when The Navigator made a sizeable (in noise) contribution to church funds when she emptied her purse of the coppers she can’t fathom.
That was Jerez. A bit scruffy if I’m honest considering the wealth generated by the world famous sherry and brandy companies based in the town, but it was compact enough to see in a day.
Week 19 – Day 131 – Tuesday 6th of February 2018
Jerez to Seville – 69 miles
When we are plugged into mains electricity we make sure all our devices are charged up before leaving as well as filling the water tank (120 ltrs) etc as in this instance we were moving on north to Seville today for a couple of nights parked up without mains power, which we can cope with no problem. As I mentioned on Sunday when we arrived we were given a welcoming glass of sherry each which was appreciated by two weary travellers who had just driven all of 69 miles, so on settling up I bought The Navigator a bottle as a treat before we left Jerez!
We found a Repsol garage to top up the gas tanks before leaving Jerez (but forgot to buy diesel. Doh!) for the journey of about 60 miles today through pleasant, if unremarkable countryside. A lot of flat arable fields, almost British looking in places, some more cows and sheep, some more olive plantations, some rolling hills and a fairly decent road, if a little bumpy in places.
About a third of the way there we encountered a very bad accident between two lorries and a car which had obviously just happened before we arrived on the scene as there was debris all over the road and one of the lorry drivers was desperately trying to stem the flow of diesel spilling out of his ruptured fuel tank. I managed to squeeze past as I feared that the road would be closed for some time once the emergency services arrived to clear up the fuel and bits of car and lorry lying all over the roadway.
Our fuel was very low so I stopped to fill up at a garage in the middle of nowhere. On entering Seville we found an Aldi and stocked up for the next few days as this weeks lunch budget has been used up! The site we are staying at is not up to much but it serves a purpose as its within walking distance of Seville city centre, tomorrows destination.
Week 19 – Day 132 – Wednesday 7th of February 2018
Seville – 0 miles
As far as I can see there are 3 places to park a motorhome within walking distance of the centre of Seville and we were in the furthest away! It is in an odd place, close to where ships are being unloaded at the docks which I was not expecting in an inland city. It is also part of a massive car compound where up to 5 car transporters at a time were disgorging their loads of new cars to be parked in a massive car park surrounding the Aire. We had walked for almost half an hour before we reached the first sight on our list to see – and what a sight – a building and setting to stop you in your tracks.
In 1929, Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair, located in the celebrated Parque de María Luisa. The entire southern end of the city was redeveloped into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards. The centre of it is Parque de María Luisa, a “Moorish paradisical style” with a half mile of tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, and exhedras; lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds.
The Plaza de España was the principal building built on the Maria Luisa Park’s edge to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits. The designer, Aníbal González, combined a mix of 1920s Art Deco and “mock Mudejar”, and Neo-Mudéjar styles. The Plaza de España complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain.
In the centre is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plazaare are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain and here you can see The Navigator modelling the Barcelona alcove.
The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie series Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Theed on the Planet Naboo (no, means nothing to me either). It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator. The plaza was also used as a set for the video of Simply Red’s song, Something Got Me Started. There were no pop videos being filmed when we were there but there was a group of young people entertaining us with flamenco songs and dances and they were excellent and went away a few euros richer for their efforts. We spent what seemed like hours in the Plaza taking in this wonderful location and absorbing ourselves in the entertainment which should make a good video in its own right, as well as part of 123 Seconds In Seville.
From here we headed in the direction of the city centre, passing the University building which must be one of the few in the world with a moat! The main building of the University is known as the “Old Tobacco Factory”, named for its original use. Built in the 18th century, Seville’s tobacco factory was the largest industrial building in the world at the time and remained a tobacco factory until the 1950s. This beautiful building is also the setting for the renowned opera, Carmen, by Bizet. Carmen was a fictional worker in the tobacco factory. Not a lot of people know that!
Seville Cathedral was next to be found, and again, like most in Spain, it was a spectacular building, from the outside anyway, as there was an entry fee of €9 each which again was deemed too expensive, maybe it was worth it but €18 is a very decent lunch in this country and you might have guessed by now where our priorities lie… and speaking of lunch, it was that time of day and would you guess it, just along the street from the Cathedral was a small but perfectly formed 100 Montadidos so we indulged ourselves in another inexpensive lunch there.
In the early afternoon the shops, well the smaller ones anyway, close for the afternoon so a bit of the buzz leaves the streets of any place, and that was the case here too. We wandered about for a while in the general direction of our next ‘must see’ structure, the Metropol Parasol. The Metropol Parasol is a wooden structure located in the old quarter of Seville and was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer and completed in April 2011. At 490 by 230 ft and an approximate height of 85 ft, it is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world. The structure consists of six parasols in the form of giant mushrooms whose design is inspired by the vaults of the Cathedral of Seville and the ficus trees in the nearby Plaza de Cristo de Burgos.
The centre of Seville is really beautiful and when I mentioned on Monday that Jerez was a bit scruffy, Seville is the polar opposite, elegant buildings vie for your attention everywhere around you, in fact the city has the air of a capital city such is the scale and quality of the buildings. Having said that, this wooden structure did not meet with The Navigators approval at all and was deemed to be the wrong building in the wrong city, even though it tries to inject some modern design into a classical city, sadly it falls short.
It was now fairly late in the afternoon and the Parasol was the furthest point on our walking tour so we started to head back taking a different route and stumbling across a really old part of the city with narrow streets and a lot of character, so near to the set piece grand buildings we had seen all day.
We turned a corner and found a little park set out in little squares under trees giving shade to the seats beneath them. In two of the little squares there were people dressed in impromptu flamenco clothing, chosen from nearby clothes racks and a flamenco instructor in a real flamenco dress putting her class through some routines to the sound of music from a small sound system. A surprise to find and a real little vignette of Spanish culture.
We were flagging by this time so a reviving cuppa was called for so we stopped at a little roadside cafe and quenched our thirst. I think we were the only non Arabic speaking customers, but that aside, the drinks gave us enough energy for the last lap which took us via the Plaza de Espagna once again and surprise, surprise, it was still as stunning as this morning. From there it was back to the van for a good nights sleep before moving on in the morning.
Week 19 – Day 133 – Thursday 8th of February 2018
Seville to El Rocío – 56 miles
We were up fairly sharpish as today we were leaving Seville in the general direction of Portugal, but not before another stop in Spain that was recommended to me a few days ago via Facebook. I had taken to my least favorite social network app to ask members of a motorhome group for recommendations for places to stay on the Algarve and a few people had said that there was a must see village in Spain before the border and we should not miss it.
The satnav was duly set for El Rocío and it only took just over an hour from Seville to arrive, and right away it was an eye opener. It was a whitewashed town like so many in Spain, but this one was known for being akin to a place in the ‘Wild West’ due to its unpaved sandy streets and abundance of people riding horses.
There is a modern church called Nuestra Señora del Rocio, dating from the 1960s, a stunning sight when viewed from across the water of a lake stop where the dazzling white sanctuary stands out against the deep blue of the sky. There were a few vans parked here so we joined them.
We parked up and headed into El Rocío to do a brief recce as it was almost lunchtime then after lunch back in the van we were going to have a good look about. As you walk into the village the lake is on your right which seems a bird watchers paradise with loads of varieties, even to an untrained eye. There is a fairly large square with a few bars and shops selling religious artefacts and other tourist related gifts, strangely, flat caps for men and flamenco dresses for women seemed to be in abundance.
After walking past them we headed across to the imposing whitewashed church, and that dear blog readers is where I’m going to end todays blog post as what happened next is the subject of a post in its own right – The miracle of El Rocío.
Week 19 – Day 134 – Friday 9th of February 2018
El Rocío to Ayamonte – 70 miles
After the events of yesterday we decided to have another, calmer walk around the village and take in the unusual sights on display here and even film some of them!
El Rocío is surrounded by a huge nature reserve, of which the lake that borders the town is only a small part. Doñana is a complex mosaic of landscapes, a paradise for birds and one of the most important wetlands in Europe, home of two rare species, the Iberian lynx and the imperial eagle, as well as other mammals, reptiles and birds. Walking the short distance from the van round the edge of the lake we were greeted by a sight we didn’t see yesterday – wild horses. Although wild and allowed to roam throughout Doñana, they are obviously used to human contact as we were very close to them, including a very young foal.
At this stage we did not go into the village, instead we continued to walk along the boardwalk at the side of the water taking in all the many and varied bird species we could see, including flamingos and spoonbills. At the end of the boardwalk is a building housing a bird hide and information / educational centre which we had a walk around. A sandy street continued on where the boardwalk ended with whitewashed houses on the left side and most had stables attached to them. They were mostly deserted looking, probably used to house the massive influx of horses that are brought here for the pilgrimage in late May every year.
Towards the top of the street there was a horse tethered to a rail in front of one of these stable doors and so we went to investigate and what a fine looking beast it was. Just as we arrived a man was reversing a modern cart out of the doorway and he proceeded to tether it to the horse. GoPro gold!
He did not seem to be in any sort of hurry to set off so we continued our walk around the village. It is so odd to see virtually every building with wooden rails outside to tether a horse to but there were no horses outside tied up to them. Heading back towards the centre of the village we came across a wooden cart with a full compliment of passengers about to set off pulled by 2 donkeys. The people on board all had a bottle of lager and a plate of cheese and strips of ham were being passed around before setting off.
When we arrived at the church we had no option but to go in to have a final look at the 13th century statue that plays such a part in the life of this community and in our adventure yesterday! Across the street from the church is a building containing metal racks for holding candles purchased at €.50 a time which must swell church funds considerably.
The village was busier today with more people milling about and more busses in the parking area and thankfully people on horses to get their pictures taken to spice up this Blog if nothing else.
Back at the van we had lunch and said our goodbyes to our British neighbours then set off for our next destination, the border town of Ayamonte where we were going to spend a couple of nights on an Aire at the town’s marina, literally charging our batteries before crossing into Portugal on Sunday.
Week 19 – Day 135 – Saturday 10th of February 2018
Ayamonte – 0 miles
This location at the side of the marina at Ayamonte is quiet as you are separated from the traffic noise of the town by the width of the marina and as there is only a slight breeze there is no noise from the yacht’s rigging. So after a good nights sleep we were up fairly sharpish for a Saturday and after breakfast we were going off to explore the town.
We generally search out the market first on a Saturday as they are usually bustling with the locals stocking up for the weekend. This one was OK but not in the Premier League, or should that be La Liga of markets and a punnet of strawberries for €1 was the extent of our indulgence.
After the market we walked round to the side of the River Guadiana, the natural boundary between Spain and Portugal and we got our first glimpse of the next country on our Great European road trip, Portugal. Some people get off the ferry at Santander or Bilbao and are in Portugal in a day or two but it has taken us four and a half months to get within sight of it. We walked along the quayside used by the local fishing boats and could see the Ponte Internacional do Guadiana bridge over the river that we will be crossing tomorrow.
After completing a loop of the town we found the other market in progress, this one had no foodstuffs only the usual clothing and footwear stalls you see at most markets like this. We made one purchase, the details of which are under embargo until early June!
On the way back from the market we found a park beside the river and had a seat in the mini-gym area where there was a pedalling device so I made use of the facilities. There is also a mini zoo here but it looked less than enticing so gave it a miss. Before returning to the van we bought a few things in the local supermarket which was only about 100 yards away. It was a bright sunny day and the van was lovely and warm so after lunch I took to lying on the bed relaxing and catching up on this weeks blog. In the middle of the afternoon we heard live music coming from the town so we decided to investigate and found the place was in carnival mode with many people in fancy dress and a group of men singing in harmony what appeared to be songs with a humorous touch as the onlookers laughed with them, not at them.
They moved on to a busier square that we had missed on our morning walk so we had a glass of lager in the sunshine and watched them perform again.
Week 19 – Day 136 – Sunday 11th of February 2018
Ayamonte to Manta Rota – 22 miles
Today was the day we ticked the Portugal box on the list of European countries visited to date. I woke at my usual 7.30am much to the annoyance of The Navigator who hadn’t dropped off until 3am as the carnival or whatever it was continued until the wee small hours, but I had been oblivious to the noise wafting across the marina.
Not unsurprisingly the roads were very quiet as we set off for our destination of Manta Rota, not that far over the Portuguese border. Just before you cross the bridge into Portugal there are services off to the right so the tanks were topped up with diesel at €1.14 a litre. The trick with crossing into Portugal is getting off the dual carriageway as it becomes a toll road after the second junction but my Google navigator had that sussed and took us off at the first slip road heading for a sleepy little town called Castro Marim which is dominated by a huge castle complex. As we entered it a policeman waved us down and sent us up a side street and as he didn’t look the type to be argued with, I obeyed. The road looped round to a bit of waste ground directly under the huge castle walls so we parked there as curiosity had got the better of us to see what was going on in the village that needed the road closed.
It turned out to be a cross country cycle race from Spain to Portugal that was going to end in the centre of the village in about half an hour.
After watching the first half dozen or so come in the satnav was rerouted and we set off for the coast again. The roads were horrendous and it was a bumpy journey but we eventually made it only to find that the 100 capacity Aire was full up and they were turning vans away. I hadn’t figured on that happening in mid February but I started looking online for somewhere else not too far away to go to, found a likely candidate and set off only to notice immediately a beach side car park with loads of vans parked up so thats where we ended up, no facilities but a great location.
FOOTNOTE – On the next morning we were fortunate to get into the Manta Rota Aire which is a real bargain at €4.50 a night. It was our intention to drive right along the southern Portuguese coast before heading home but as we are on a sunny pitch on a great Aire beside a lovely beach at a bargain price with the forecast for great weather, we are going to stay here for at least a week and have a relax before setting off northwards.
A consequence of this decision is that there will be no blog post next week as I doubt you would want to read about us enjoying scorching hot weather while the UK is somewhat less fortunate?
Normal service will be resumed in 2 weeks time with a double edition.
To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
After four and a half months on the road we have finally arrived in Portugal.
Stay tuned to find out what we make of it…
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