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Another winter blog by Lin Powell and Wendy Palmer on their much shorter trip to Spain this year.
In the same chatty style as last years blog, it is made up of our weekly emails back home to friends, who are mostly non campervaners and tends to describe life in the present as it happened in a way they would understand
5th December 2019 to 7th January 2020
It covers the December election time in England and civil unrest in France and perhaps understandably, reflects our deliberations of the time. Looking back over it , the continual moving on reads as a bit of a dash for the latter part but it didn’t feel so at the time and a couple of nights in most places felt enough to enjoy the small towns and villages we passed through as we travelled homeward.
Bonjour Monsieur Macron and Hola Spain.
Allo ‘Allo France.
We left our rainy old England port of Newhaven a little earlier this year. Not a lot changes except this time apart from the lorries, it was almost just us , one foot passenger and a dog . With an additional boozy old white van driver who clearly was taking advantage of the 20% off for old codgers like us, we had the complete lounge area to ourselves where we all slept blissfully on the couches for the whole of the 5 hour night crossing.
For those who have never been there, which I suspect is the majority and why would you, here is our departure point.
A shack and a wire fence not really designed to keep anyone in or out , so not too much trouble here when “ taking back our borders”
So “ ‘Allo France” .
Dieppe to Bordeaux to the Somport tunnel and through the Pyrenees.
No real signs of the troubles besieging poor ‘ ole Monsieur Macron’ and his pension reforms here , while further over the tanks , sorry, tractors, nearly a 1000 of them roll into Paris.
The farmers are angry at government policies which they feel discriminate against them, including a new EU/ Canada trade deal (heard that mentioned somewhere recently?) and plans to restrict the use of pesticides in the French countryside.
Not wishing to risk holdups on our shortened stay this year, we scurried through France on a ‘lorry free’ Sunday as we had already noted signs saying ‘Greves ‘. effecting “Circulation Lundi. ” . (Strikes Monday).
Pension reform has been tried twice before, notably by Chirac in 1995 , who backed down after three weeks. Now again, the whole of France is on National strike, if for no other reason they really do not like Monsieur Macron. Forewarned by Carolyn we had already practised saying “ Je suis contre Macron aussi ” just in case.
France it seems , is ungovernable.
We already had planned an escape via the Hook of Holland if needed and we really did intend to go up country to Lincolnshire on our return. Fortunately not required.
Hola Spain. No one parties like the Spanish.
We arrived in Spain to great festivities on Constitution weekend …and a full Navajas campsite. December 6 th was the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution. Día de la Constitución marks the anniversary when a new constitution was approved in 1978. Spain needed a new constitution and political system after Franco’s death and a new one was voted in 1977 by 88 % of the population. (Now that’s an overwhelming majority Boris). This was an important step in Spain’s transition to becoming a constitutional monarchy and democracy after Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975. As mentioned in our last blog they have transplanted him from the Basilica to a Municipal cemetery outside Madrid although de Rivera founder and head of the original Falange movement still remains there.
Enough of the history lesson.
Navajas. Camping Altomiro
Day 1, Walk 1.
Super sunny and blue skies.
Lola hasn’t quite made it all the way and this was only a warm up walk for a few hours!
She was , methinks, clearly making a point.
Bolivian Betty…aka Wendy…used to walking at altitudes in excess of 5000 metres, found herself carrying the precious pet with ease at only 700 metres in the hills surrounding Navajas , 30 klms north west of Valencia.
Several of the houses here are built on a cliff top. Wonder what the insurance is on this one?
This Elm is one of the greatest sources of historical pride in the square in Navajas. It’s 382 years of life makes it unique and an entrant for the European Tree of the year 2019.
Day 2 Walk 2. All went well and out for a leisurely 5 hours to the neighbouring town of Segorbe through olive groves and cliff top walks.
Day 3 and walk 3. Only Bolivian Betty and No. 1 mountain dog Gracie, stirred outside the van.
Lina and Lola were knacked having carried the shopping back over the hills from Segorbe yesterday. So already a day of rest with a few chores for them while Bolivian Betty and the ginger thug trekked the local hills for the day.
Well here we go, Election Day …Navajas style. The cliff top dwellings are not the only dodgy houses.
If you look closely enough through the window you can see the throne awaiting the next incumbent.
Who will it be.?
Palomar, and the Costa Blanca mountains awaits us …while Britain decides.
Next we traversed the Community of Valencia to the foothills of the Costa Blanca mountains. Being a little earlier this year the oranges and persimmons had yet to be collected .The orange-colored persimmons are known for their sweet, honey-like flavour and as the leaves fall first, the countryside is just …well…Orange.!
90% of Spain’s persimmon crop is grown in Valencia. Not so well known in England and very healthy, rich in antioxidants. Something to look out for and actually sold in Tesco’s, although can be small and hard as hand grenades so be careful as unlikely to ripen and thus will taste bitter! Try Waitrose.
We stayed the night at Beniloba in a car park off the road to Calvary between the 6th and 7 th, Stations of the Cross.
There are many such roads to churches on the hillsides in the Spanish villages , but atop this hill was a cemetery. While our neighbours gave us an uneventful night, it was interrupted however by Lina huffing and puffing at the election results .
She gave in at about 3:00 am.
Britain had decided.
Not to be daunted by this very Blue, Friday the 13th , we headed off across the Costa Blanca mountains. Winding roads and hairpin bends brought us to our planned walk only to find gale force winds deterring our efforts of even opening the doors. Determined to be cheerful whatever, we carried on along the rest of the bendy roads to El Castel de Guadalest... in search of much needed comfort food.
Lola enjoying a Turrón ice cream. She is one spoilt dog.
Turrón is a sweet treat made from a mixture of honey, eggs, sugar and, perhaps most importantly of all, toasted nuts. This Spanish sweet treat is enjoyed throughout the year but is really most popular during the festive season when it is an essential component of any Christmas meal here.
We settled down in our 2 euros a night car park after a couple of local walks, to watch the beautiful sunset, approx. 6.00pm and to enjoy our paella supper and a glass or two of Malbec.
What a day…Cheers to Dom, master manipulator .
Cheers to Boris, Donald and Nigel , (the bête noire of British politics. Probably will end up as the next British Ambassador to Washington as a payoff for having stood down 314 Brexit candidates to help gain Tory seats ).
We are now contemplating joining Nigel’s new Reform Party to campaign for changes to the electoral system.
Well, be honest…you would expect some sort of rant from us right now
… but we promise.
No More Politics!
Next our walk up the Penya Mulero , a continuation of the great ridge of Aitana , Alicante’s highest peak and to look down on the Guadalest valley.
To help with orientation. If you are lying on your sunbed in Benidorm with your head to the sea and look up, you will see the Cordillera Costa Blanca.(well, if you peer around the high rises).
That’s where we are. Looking down across the sea, we can pick out Ibiza and Formentera.
Way up high with ‘the poor wee mites’, with the sea in the background.
Then it’s off to the Costa coast to Benitaxell, taking in a flea market on the way where the stall holders seemed to be mostly Brits and Germans , who are a large percent of the population here, quite frankly selling a load of old toot! We did however buy some very useful D.I.Y bits for the van from a German stall.
First time visitors to the Costa Blanca may be appalled by the scale of development and the way it has pushed inland where it dwarfs original villages. The flip side of this is you can use the roads of these urbanisations, mostly closed up-for the winter, to access interesting walks and within a few minutes be in open country and access the edges of the Xavia Reserve . It was here that we followed a marvellous cliff edge walk which squirmed its way between bushes and rocks to a craggy promontory hosting a ruined fort circa 18 century, while below was a beautiful small, sandy cove with clear, turquoise -blue water.
As noted in last years blog, wires and chains are no help to paws when lowering yourself down the cliff face paths .
Gracie demands a second option, while Lola is thinking “what have I done to deserve this, there must be another route over here somewhere?” .
The return journey.
On turning round to see what had happened , Wend was not quite sure if Lina had :
a) Fallen over and was semi-conscious.
b) Was just having a rest after the scary cliff paths.
c) Trying to remember her Pilates relaxation technique…after the scary cliff paths.
d) She had earlier slipped something into her water bottle.
a) yes, b) yes, c) yes, d) no…but wishing it was yes.
As an ex-work colleague recently remarked,
“ We are sliding ever towards the inevitable – find, when we pick something up, (in this case just fall down) we look for other jobs while down there and make the accompanying grunt at the same time.” Ah, that was what the delay was.
Get up Lina, it’s another 2 hours back to the van and uphill all the way having just scrambled down the 350 metres to the cove.
Next day ‘inevitably’, Lina and Lola once more spend most of the day recovering in the van. Popping out later to saunter around the small town of Xalo they came upon a very unique courtyard cafe for cycling addicts , although today it seemed to contain only old men with long grey hair in sagging Lycra. ( Really, really sorry, no photos ).
This is cycling country where the professional teams from Le Tour de France and La Vuelta (the Spanish equivalent,) practice along with lots of cycling enthusiasts.
The only escape from this remarkable spectacle without going back past it , was up a steep path and another 14 Stations of the Cross . The latter was chosen..
Wendy and No 1 mountain dog in the meantime had followed another trek from her trusty book. “ ( Scary) Walks in the Costa Blanca Mountains” by Terry Fletcher. Lina drove the winding road up to to the Col de Montagne to meet them . Lola was in the back resting with her paws over her eyes.
This is actually Esther whom we met a couple of years ago.
Next onto Ricote, a favourite haunt of ours and the Aire amongst the lemon groves. While in the local Municipal Mercado one morning enjoying a lovely, 1 euro , Café con leche and seriously trying just to enjoy all things Spanish… we hear an English voice…
“ I heard Individuals can buy membership of the EU for 20 euros.”
Eh? Right.!! Time to move on.
The seaside beckons as the temperature drops on the hillside.
Next, La Azohia and the sea.
The seaside, a day in the life of …El Torcal above the clouds. And Party time.
As already mentioned we are on a short break this year and instead of our leisurely meanderings across Spain wandering where ever our fancy takes us for 3 and a half months we are following a well visited , trusted route of “favourites”. Pretty much the same as last year in shortened version so as to start making our way back as early as 6 th January to catch the Chunnel . The French allowing, of course.
So for a fuller more whimsical version with better photos just visit last years blog.
Otherwise continue for ‘two left feet, hotdogs, the mundane and party time’.
This next bit is included for our friend Pat, who was doing very well with her packing for an earlier trip to India, all in those tightly packed suitcases, until she realised she’d forgotten shoes. Well Pat, I did not quite forget, just grabbed mine in a hurry .That second pair was such a bargain at the time.
Lina gets out her walking sandals ready for the seaside. Mmmmmm..
Wend coulndn’t stop laughing for a full minute!
Oh, to be by the seaside.
La Azohia, a small seaside village near Mazarrón, Murcia , just over the hills from Cartagena and where we spent a few days over Christmas, just off the seashore, great for walking and playing.
Monday 22 nd. It is too hot to venture outside the van cum midday.
Wend returned early from her walk up Peñas Blancas.
as Gracie was suffering from the heat. And her being a Spanish girl too.
Gracie sheltering in the shade under the van.
Christmas Day. A wee bit cooler. Lovely messages all round.
Wendy went off to complete her all day trek up Peñas Blancas with No. 1 mountain dog having already cooked Lina her large traditional christmas breakfast. Lina and Lola might haul themselves along the seashore later having consumed said large traditional breakfast , not to mention the Christmas cake at coffee time.
More lovely walks complete the stay.
Lola wonders quite where the path has gone?
Well now to the mundane. A day in the life of…
We don’t really just swan around from place to place …(actually yes we do but..)
We do have to plan a bit around seeing to the mundane…like chores.
Today is just such a day before we set off to Antequera El Torcal above the clouds.
When wild camping in car parks and on hillsides we can last about 4 days using our facilities pretty much as we would do at home.
Then we have to go and find somewhere to empty the loo, the grey waste(drain) and fill up with fresh water. The heating and hot water are on diesel and cooking is on gas, so these get filled as and when. So it’s now time to move from our seaside spot, go and do some shopping and see to the utilities.
Shopping is for the week in the most wonderful new super store.
Imagine a brand new Waitrose that you could drive your campervan down the aisles. The fruit and veg part is like a ballroom. Now imagine you are the only one in there. Well that was us at 9.00 o’clock am. Brand new spanish superstore called Mercadona, all to ourselves.
Next it’s on to a garage en route where everything but the electricity is free and which we rarely use as we have two solar panels and a super duper alternator .
So we cheerfully sit in the sun doing our weeks washing, taking a shower and generally sorting ourselves for the next part of our journey.
Here we are, 4 hours later at Antequera El Torcal, high in the mountains above the clouds where we decided to go up and stay for the night just because it is so beautiful. Just imagine you are looking out the plane window at the bank of cloud below with the sun and blue sky above.
That is what it is like.
The walk to the top is spectacular with Griffon vultures high above.
Next, It’s along the Mediterranean Highway and up route A92 past Granada and the snow clad Sierra Nevada . We sped together with Kathryn Jenkins singing at the tops of our voices “Granada”.
Kathryn would swoon if she could hear the accompaniment , the dogs had their paws over their ears.
As we have said before .The Spanish know how to party.
28th Dec. Saturday. Merida. Extremadura.
Pre New Year celebrations .
The only place on the planet that celebrates the New Year on the nearest Saturday. They are fast at knowing that they can have two New Years .
One gin and tonic, well half a bottle of gin and tonic, one brandy, no mean measures here with coffee. Forget two fingers ,this is measured in hands. No optics, just pour from the bottle while having a chat. We sat in a street cafe about 10 .00pm having already enjoyed the New year celebrations due to finish approx. 1.00 am. We just about found where we had left the van.
Tomorrow it’s Roman ruins…
Extremadura and beautiful historic villages
Extremadura is one of our favourite regions of Spain. Bordering Portugal it’s a remote area of mountains, forests, lakes and reserves including a National and a Natural Park. It’s also green, has good roads and remotely populated with not too many cars. The good thing about this time of year is that the tourists and campervans are all Spanish enjoying the festive season around the historic, pretty villages ( too cold for the German, Dutch and French lot who are no doubt down by the seaside sunning themselves).
Merida, it’s capital is a World Heritage site and home to more ancient Roman monuments than any other Spanish city. The town is brimming with incredibly well preserved Roman ruins dating back to 8 BC. From aqueducts to amphitheatres, from Roman circus’s to theatres. Merida has it all. Best too, everything can be easily accessed, within walking distance of each other in this delightful little town and all for a combined ticket of 7.50 euros for pensioners.
The Amphitheatre where they still hold live performances.
The Puerto Romano bridge over the Guadiana river is the world’s longest surviving Roman bridge.
The Alcabaza, is a 9th century Muslim fortress accessed from the Puerto Romano built on Roman remains.
Now for a visit around the villages.
Next is Medellin, 30 mins down the road from Merida and still on the Guadiana river where we parked up for the night (below). It has a small Roman theatre and super castle.
A view from the van of the access bridge Felipe IV, with a few of the locals passing by.
Another lovely walk amongst the olives being harvested and the storks nesting on the church at a village called Torre Santa Marie. (this time from walking book “ Walking in The Sierras of Extremadura “ by Gisela Radant Wood ) .
The storks make an amazing sound which one can only call a ‘clattering chatter’.
We continued on to the village of
Torre De Don Miguel.
A really lovely place especially over the Christmas period and where we spent New Year’s Eve in an Aire on the edge of the village.
Torre de Don Miguel is a setback in time. A place where Arab, Christian and Jewish cultures are mixed. At one end of the small plaza is a spectacular church and at the other a Synagogue. It’s a labyrinth of passages, rooms over streets and alleyways . Virtually unknown and so well worth a visit as long as you pay heed to directions of not trying to drive through the village!
Streets in the old Jewish quarter create a story of Bethlehem and the birth of Christ with splendid tableaux along the route.
Next Into Castilla y Leon and a ride right over the top of the mountains . Imagine driving up and over Ben Nevis. Loads of hairpin bends and even Wendy was beginning to wonder what was next. Although quite safe, I’m sure there was another way but Gina Sat. Nav does not have a fourth alternative called ‘sensible route’ for some reason. Wend assured us the paper map looked ok for vehicles shorter than 8 metres long, so over we went to La Alberca , another amazing historic village.
The architecture is quite unique to this region.
There was of course a much easier route in and out which normal people used.
Next onwards and northwards towards home and Salamanca…
Salamanca, where Monsignor Quixote and the communist mayor travelled to after we left them at Segovia in the last years travels. ( Graham Greene. Monsignor Quixote).
Another Roman bridge, this one over the river Torres leading into Salamanca and which we crossed from our parking spot , just 10 mins walk from the centre.
With a history dating back to the Celtic era, it’s known for its ornate sandstone architecture and for the Universidad which is the third oldest university in Europe dating back to 1218.
In fact the university has been one of the main influences of life there.
The new and old cathedral which share the same site.
The storks here swoop above your head through the streets in places and have caused thousands of euros worth of damage to some buildings.
A good place to visit if you are over that way.
Now really heading for home we wendy’d our way up across country following the Duero river and generally taking the scenic back roads towards the Pyrenees into France.
The Mallos de Riglos. These are huge natural sculptures that are an astonishing mountain landscape. They consist in a group of vertical structures, of conglomerate rock that reach up to 300 metres, 45 miles west of Huesca. They form almost another natural border just before the Pyrenees.
The Pyrenees. We went up and over the Somport pass this time instead of going through the tunnel as we usually do, for now we have acquired a taste
for going up and over . Anything less seems way too easy and certainly not as scenic.
And so into France down the Aspe valley and over to the coast through the mist leaving the blue skies behind us, the other side of the mountains.
Europe’s tallest sand dune… in the mist!
La Dune Pilat, in the Arcachon Bay Area and 60 klms from Bordeaux.
Gracie was less than impressed as her little legs often sank up to her armpits.
She was also somewhat bruised having been attacked by a brute of a dog just before we left Spain.
Fortunately we were able to get her checked out by Natalie the vet we know in France, and who just loves to talk about Brexit and what it means for pet travel (which she has done for the last 3 years!) Her answer is we need to live in France . Ha ! not , we say, at the cost of living here where food and fuel prices are higher than in England .The first time we can remember fuel costing more here. The only things that seem cheaper are vet bills and wine. On which note! We will be calling into a large wine store before catching the Eurostar home.
But first we stayed over with some old friends in the Loire who have a small animal sanctuary of rescued animals including 3 goats ,3 dogs, 12 cats, 3 Shetland ponies, a donkey, a horse, and too many turkeys, chickens, guinea fowl and small birds to count.
Here we go then , onto the Euro tunnel, next stop home. For those who haven’t done it , you just drive into and through the metal carriages on the right.
The red line shows roughly our route for the 5 week dash.