Outside In

697 nights :  25,671 miles travelled : countries visited: 26

“We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us”  W. B. Yeats

It is ridiculous to try and squeeze our entire time in Andalucia into one blog post. We have been here for six weeks gathering countless multisensory memories but we can’t move on until we have absorbed and shared the experience. Photographs cannot describe the heady scent of orange blossom, the birdsong on full volume or the shivers that evening brings as the hot sun gives way to a chilly night. But there are plenty (!) of pictures to show you the wonderful places we’ve seen and to remind us how lucky we are when we return home.

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The A92 a scenic (over)drive

It’s always a good sign when the road on our Michelin map is accompanied by a green line. The A92 is a spectacular road gradually climbing around the Sierra Nevada, through a wild west desert which gives way to olive plantations, a sunny plateau filled with almond blossom and finally on to magical Granada.

The headline act in Granada is the Alhambra, a complex of fortress and palaces occupied by Moorish and Spanish rulers for centuries. The Moorish architecture is breathtaking with the use of courtyards and water keeping the heat of the sun at bay while bringing the outside in. Tessellated tiling is symbolic and inscriptions of poetry and spiritual texts surround the rooms with blessings and praises.

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“When the rest of Europe was building castles in the air, in Granada they were constructing castles upon water.”   Jesus Bermudez  Pareja
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The Courtyard of the Lions. The thousand year old lions represent the sun, the source of life

 

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The austerity of the sixteenth century Charles V Palace is a dramatic contrast
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The Torre de la Damas offers views over the wonderful gardens and terraces
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Even cabbages are required to grow in geometric order
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The Alhambra has a close relationship with the city below

Unfortunately in Spain we cannot take Kipper on public transport so we have to find camperstops close to where we want to be. Fortunately we were able to sleep on the car park of the Alhambra which meant we were within steep walking distance of the narrow streets of the Arab quarter and the historic centre of Granada. We got up early to explore the city and to view the Alhambra from afar.

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The biggest surprise was as we turned a corner and the cathedral unexpectedly ‘found’ us . It was built by Isabella and Ferdinand, parents of Catherine of Aragon, who rest in a crypt in the royal chapel next door.

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The gothic splendour of  the Capilla Real, burial place of the Catholic Monarchs

The woodland around the Alhambra gave welcome shade as we walked back up the hill to Brian, while the irrigation channels gave Kipper the most fun walk in days!

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The boys settled into the gentle rhythm of life in Humilladero while I had a quick trip back to the UK. This is a small village close to the rugged hills of the Paraje Natural Torcal de Antequera and was the first place we saw evidence of the financial crisis, with many plots and buildings unfinished. However the surrounding countryside was soothing and the biggest stir of the day was the movement of sheep and goats to new grazing areas in the village.

We were drawn to the Fuente de Piedra Natural Park by the promise of flamingos and they were there but very low water levels on the lake meant that they were barely visible. We didn’t need a telescope to enjoy the sky though!

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The rabbits were very close!

My brother joined us for a couple of weeks and we moved on to Olvera which has a stunning hilltop castle and church. However, the camperstop was at the bottom of the hill. We were at the end of the Via Verde de la Sierra, a walking and cycling trail along a disused railway and this was an easy way to enjoy the gorgeous  green countryside.

 

The two parts of Ronda are bridged across the dramatic El Tajo gorge and we found it’s setting and varied history fascinating. Popular with tourists but the uniqueness and charm of the town shines through.

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Fortifications date back to Moorish times
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Ronda is one of Andalucia’s spectacular ‘white towns’
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The old bridge on a narrower part of the gorge

Spanish towns come to noisy life at weekends and we were lucky to catch a marching band competition and an exhausting cycle race.

The eighteenth century Puente Nuevo spans a 100 metre chasm and gives wonderful views of the Serrania de Ronda mountains. We were drawn back here again and again.

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Ernest Hemingway celebrated the complexities of Spain’s character  and describes this area’s dark Civil War days in For Whom the Bell Tolls. There is a memorial to him close to the town’s bullring. Ronda is regarded as the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the Plaza de Toros is now a museum. Graham and Kipper created a less bloodthirsty entertainment for the tourists. No animals were harmed in the taking of these photographs!

 

A stunning mountain road took us to the coast once again and as we descended we could see our destination from around fifty kilometres away. Our son was flying into Gibraltar and the camperstop gave us a front row view of ‘the rock’.

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We were a ten minute walk from the frontier and almost the first thing encountered is the airport runway. It was amazing to stand and watch Rob’s plane circle and then land right in front of us!

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Across the runway a further fifteen minutes on foot takes you into the heart of town. Walking around Gibraltar is like walking around with your underwear inside out. It all looks familiar but something doesn’t feel quite right. It was very strange to be suddenly reading signs in English and using sterling again. The shopping streets hark back to the 1970’s and there is a faintly colonial air to official buildings.

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The boys took the cable car to the top of the rock for a spectacular view down to the marina where we were parked and across to North Africa.

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Looking back down to the airstrip and to Brian parked in the very centre of the picture
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The ubiquitous Barbary ape. No humans were harmed in the taking of this photograph!

 

Within minutes of arriving at the camperstop in Jerez de la Frontera we were poured glasses of ice-cold sherry of varying tastes and colour by the enthusiastic site manager. Not speaking each other’s language, our judgements could only be expressed via facial expressions. It is surprisingly difficult to lie when not using words!

Gonzalez Byass is the largest producer in a city full of bodegas and has a town sized complex within Jerez, given over to producing and storing wine, sherry, brandy and whiskey. Tio Pepe is a worldwide brand, recognisable by the sombrero wearing bottle and it was fun tasting that alongside the British brand Croft Original.

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Gustav Eiffel (yep the French guy!) was commissioned to create a special sherry store in honour of a royal visit in 1869.  The Real Bodega de la Concha holds 214 casks of Amontillado, bearing flags of the regions of Spain and the 115 countries where the wines are exported. The smell walking past the casks in all the bodegas was heavenly!

 

It is always dangerous visiting somewhere with high expectations but we need not have worried with Seville. It is a fabulous open city that could consume weeks of your life and still leave more to see. But mostly it is a friendly place to wander or sit at a table and watch the world pass by.

The cathedral is one of the largest in the world and is Gothic with a capital G! It was started in the 12th century on the site of the Great Mosque and the bell tower, once a minaret and Orange Tree Courtyard date from before then.

DSC_1344DSC_1387 The tomb of Christopher Columbus is carried aloft by four figures representing the regions of Spain at the time of his death. However because his remains have been moved between continents several times, there have been questions raised as to whether it is actually him held high.

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The university campus is based in what was once a tobacco factory, the fictional setting for the opera Carmen. The wall is inlaid with plaques demonstrating Seville’s distinct style of ceramic decoration.

The Metropol Parasol claims to be the largest wooden building in the world and is known locally as the mushroom. It houses restaurants and shops and a museum displaying roman ruins unearthed during it’s construction but Graham and Robin most enjoyed the views of the city from the undulating walkway on the roof.

Our camperstop was just across the river from Maria Luisa, one of the most beautiful city parks. Grand pavilions house museums at one end while nearer the city,  the magnificent Plaza de Espana features symmetry, ceramic decoration and the Andalucian art of mixing outside with in perfectly.

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The Mudejar Pavilion houses the Museum of Art & Popular Costume
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Cooling off!
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Plaza de Espana
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Does it get more Spanish than this?!

 

The third in our golden triangle of car park accommodation was by the city walls of Cordoba. Here the Mezquita stands out, a unique curious blend of mosque and cathedral. No amount of reading prepares you for it’s beauty.

 

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The Courtyard of Orange Trees means you enter the Mezquita before going inside
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Running water in the Courtyard helps pilgrims keep their cool
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The Mosque is a forest of columns and arches

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At the heart of the Mosque is a Baroque Cathedral including mahogany choir stalls
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The Roman Bridge was originally built in the 1st century

Cordoba’s hot dry climate has meant homes are built around a central patio since Roman times. Filling the patio with plants and water features helps to keep it cool and once a year a competition is held and visitors get the chance to see behind the iron grills and enjoy the colour and scents. We were too early for the festival but found a food market with a sequence of patios in which to sit outside in.

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There is nowhere quite like El Rocio. The tarmac ends at the edge of town and Kipper skips as though we are at the beach when we cross the ‘road’. At weekends we dodge horses topped by people of all shapes and ages and carriages filled with smiling families.

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There’s no need to dismount to enjoy a beer!

We are on the edge of the Donana National Park, home of the Iberian Lynx which is very hard to spot and countless amazing species of birds, which are joyfully easy to see. Throughout our time in Spain we have seen storks nests with storks in them! Here we have also seen eagles, ibis, spoonbill and more flamingos than anywhere else. If only either of us was a skillful photographer we could prove it….but this is the best we could manage so you’ll just have to believe us!

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Easter is a low key event here, compared to the festival at Pentecost which attracts a million people . On Good Friday we watched the Crucifix being processed around the town, followed by a faithful congregation, curious visitors and children on horses.

We are finding it hard to leave the neat campsite here. We love the alternative feel of the town. The sun is hot every day and our limbs are still looking dip dyed as we expose more of them to the light. But we are within a whisper of Portugal and it would be a shame not to go and have a look.

M & G x

Treat of the week:  For me, sharing part of the trail with Rob and Robin on Mother’s Day!! For Graham it was a road sign which gave rare advance warning that Brian would definitely not squeeze through!

 

Pump up the volume

682 nights : 25, 518 miles travelled : countries visited: 26

“Spain is different”   Manuel Fraga

Okay… now we see why Spain is so popular with visitors!

Our last view of coastal towers was an eerie mirage on the horizon. Los Alcazares looks out across the sea to la Manga del Mar Menor, a narrow strip of land covered in apartment blocks. We understand that tourism transformed the economy of Spain and realise that millions of people want to enjoy the sun, sea and sand on offer, but this is a big country that offers so much more.

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It says something about us that we felt much more comfortable sleeping next to a service station than on all the immaculate camperparks along the coast. But at least we have become more proficient in using apps on our phones. Camper Contact helps us to find somewhere to sleep,  podcasts allow us to keep up with our favourite Radio 4 programmes and Google Maps prevent us getting completely lost when exploring. We checked the latter before walking the two kilometres into Cartagena and a big blue line promised a riverside stroll. However Kipper wasn’t going to get the opportunity for a dip here!

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Cartagena is an archaeologist’s dream that seems to be actively peeling back it’s present to expose the past. It was fascinating to walk from traditional Spanish plazas into partly demolished streets.

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Access to the Molinete Archaelogical Park is via a bizarrely placed escalator which lifts you into an area blending Mediterranean planting with Roman ruins, a 16th century defensive wall, remnants of the 19th century red light district and a refuge used during the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s!

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Monumental steps leading to the site of a Roman shrine next to a 19th c. mill
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The canopy protects the remains of  Roman thermal baths and the atrium
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The park is on one of five small hills giving great views of the city

We walked across town, stopping for a break at a bar which promised afternoon tea with scones. I couldn’t resist, despite being snooty about full English breakfasts and fish and chips on the costas. Graham sensibly stuck to a beer while I crunched my way through biscuits sandwiched with cream and a glass of lukewarm water with a teabag in it. I learned my lesson!

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The Roman amphitheatre pushes the modern city aside
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Looking down onto ancient and modern theatres and across the Port of Cartagena

We found a complete contrast in the hills and trees of the Sierra Espuna regional park but the direct Spanish sun has the same effect. Everything seems brighter and louder.  In the city, reflections are blinding and scooter engines and barking dogs reverberate through you. In the countryside, shadows seem alive and birds and crickets sing a piercing chorus.

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We were on high alert as we enjoyed our first proper hike of the year.  Pine Processionary caterpillars are covered in thousands of irritating hairs which can cause severe reactions in humans and animals. We have heard horror stories of dogs losing tongues and often their lives after coming into contact with them. In spring, the caterpillars create distinctive cotton-like nests which they sleep in and leave to feed. They move about in nose to tail processions which would make them interesting to a curious Kipper.  We kept him on the lead and skirted around the scores of trees which hosted the nests.

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There was a treeless daily walk along the irrigation canal which fed into the lemon groves surrounding us. It was much safer to stick our noses into the delicious produce boxes!

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The hilltown of Mojácar was saved from extinction by an enterprising mayor who offered cheap accommodation to artists and craftsmen and is now a significant tourist spot.

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Impossibly narrow streets offer shelter from the heat
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The Indalo symbol is used everywhere as a lucky charm

Views from the town look one way to the modern seaside resort of Mojácar Playa and inland towards the volcanic plugs in what is known locally as the valley of pyramids.

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You approach the Cabo de Gata nature reserve through the shimmering sea of polytunnels which provides northern Europe with out of season vegetables. Rolls of waste plastic  and the shanty style accommodation in outlying villages made us think of the tension between bringing prosperity to the Spanish economy and the human and environmental cost of giving us cherry tomatoes at Christmas.

The nature reserve beyond offers a glimpse of coastal Spain before the arrival of mass tourism. We based ourselves in San José and loved walking to deserted beaches through a technicolour world of poppy reds, acid yellows and spring greens.

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Genoveses Beach

At last Mr Kips was able to run off the frustration of all those No Dogs signs higher up the coast! The volcanic formations on Mónsul beach were a backdrop in scenes on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which inspired Graham to get out his favourite sun hat…any excuse!

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Building within the reserve is governed by strict planning law and restoration work is carried out here where it may be ignored elsewhere. This satisfies the aims of the park, attracts tourists and means that human impact sits better in the environment. We appreciate that this is not possible everywhere but were very happy to find this beautiful corner of Spain.

 

San Miguel de Cabo de Gata has an incredibly long beach lined with old fishing boats. A road divides this from saltworks which date from Roman times.

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The saltworks still produce 40,000 tons per year
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The flooded land creates an ideal habitat for flamingos
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The old church at Las Salinas de Cabo de Gata has been restored

The long road ends in a lighthouse, which gives a great view of Arrecife de las Sirenas or Mermaids Reef.

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The lighthouse is on a point used for reference by sailors since the Phoenecians
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Mermaids once lived on the reef, or were they monk seals?

Ironically it has been the quieter parts of our trail that have  surrounded us with sights and sounds that mean we’re getting the message loud and clear. Spain is amazing!!

M & G xx

Treat of the week: Afternoon tea…..what was I thinking??

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