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Emma & Maneesh on the Big OE

Turning Up The Heat In España

SPAIN | Tuesday, 24 July 2012 | Views [390]

We enjoy our first Paella in Valencia, at our campground. Delicious!

We enjoy our first Paella in Valencia, at our campground. Delicious!

Saturday 7th of July

We had arrived to our hotel in Dublin near the airport last night at 9pm. It was pouring rain and very miserable. Poor Em had hurt her back 3 days ago quite badly and was very limited in her movement, and in significant pain. She had been to the doctor for pain relief 2 days ago and had made a big improvement with her pain levels which was great. It was touch and go as to whether we would be going, but she is a tough one.

Today started at 3:15am. We caught the shuttle bus to the airport at 4am. After checking in we had breakfast and wasted the time until our 6:20am flight to Madrid.
We got away on time and boh of us had a nice sleep going over. After about 2 hours we were flying over Spain and were very happy to be greeted with blue skies and barren, parched brown scenery, just what we were hoping for.

We landed at 10am Spanish time. After having an easy run through the airport we started the slow walk to the metro. Poor Em was very sore and had to take it slowly with the walking. We caught the train easily enough and got off at the right stop. The next part was a little harder. We were a big intersection with about 6 roads off it. We eventually found the right bus stop, and thankfully there was a Spanish speaking girl heading to the campground we were heading to.

We followed her off at the right stop, and then had to walk another 10 minutes to get to the campground, but we made it, and Em made it which was brilliant. After checking in we walked around the campground to pick a spot to pitch our tent. It was a big campground, and there were plenty of trees which was great. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was starting to get hot.

We picked our spot and pitched our tent for the first time. It took us a while this time around, Em supervising and me doing. The ground was rather hard, so putting in the pegs with a piece of concrete was hard work, but we got it up okay. After managing to get our airbed inflated (with the help our some campground neighbours  car cigarette lighter and our electric pump) we were good to go. We were starving by this stage and had some late lunch at the campground bar / restaraunt.

After our food we got a text from James and Julie to say they were on their way to Madrid and should arrive in about 1 hour. Our plan was that they would arrive tomorrow evening, so that was a very cool suprise.

They arrived pretty much on time with their van Dusty. They had had a long day driving from Pamplona and had been pretty busy with the running of the bulls over the past couple of days. While they got themselves settled in Em and I went for a swim at the campground swimming pool which was fantastic. This was our first swim outside for about 2 years!

After that we got into catching up. We had snacks and a few drinks and they told us all about their trip so far which started almost 3 weeks ago. They had been to the Rock Werchter music festival (Belgium), driven south through France and stopped in at Pamplona for a couple of days. They were already having a fantastic Van Trip so it was great to hear their tales.


Sunday 8th

We were up at 7:30am after a reasonably comfortable first nights’ sleep in the tent. After showers and breakfast we got our day plans organised and caught the 10am bus from the campground into Madrid city centre. Our first stop was some city markets which were supposed to be very popular. We managed to find them without too many difficulties and had a wander through them. There were some cool art stalls, otherwise it was the normal cheap clothing, hangbags, and jewellery that you get. We all got pretty hungry and had been told to have 'toast' at the markets. It was supposed to be fantastic. We only had one problem, we could not find it anywhere. We spotted an alternative morning tea, some sort of pastry, like a pastie, filled with various things like cheese and spinach or other savoury fillings. We ordered that and orange juice and to our disgust it was €14. To make matters worse it was not even real orange juice as we thought it was. We got touristed! This doesn’t happen to us very often.

After this initial disappointment our day got back on track. We were walking towards La Latina, the Tapas area of the city, where there were supposed to be lots of nice Tapas bars, and we came across some 'toast' in the window. It was like a grilled piece of baguette with various toppings including anchovies, chicken schnitzel, tomato, and something that looked like caviar. This was only €2.50, I got a schnitzel one and James got an anchovies one. They were a tasty snack.

We continued on our walking expedition and made it to La Latina, where our plan was to do a Tapas crawl. Unfortunately being a Sunday and the time of day we were there, quite a few places were closed. Still we found a nice place and each got 3 small servings of a variety of Tapas. They were tasty, but not extraordinary. James and Julie had amazing Tapas in San Sebastian and this was now the benchmark we were in search of.

From here we headed towards the Palace where we walked around the outside. The day was really starting to heat up, so we decided to keep this walk quite short and move on.

Further along our walk to various places around the city we came to Mercado San Miguel, a big (and expensive!) indoor market with delicious stalls of seafood, wine, fruit, vege, and other tasty treats. We enjoyed the walk around looking at it all.

We were now on a mission for ice cream. We managed to find a little ice cream palour and enjoyed eating our ice cream by a water fountain in the hot baking sun. James and Julie's camera had stopped working a couple of days ago, so that was also one job we had to get done. We managed to find a big department store and found them a camera. It was a very important item to have when they were at the start of a 5 month trip around Europe!

From here we continued towards Plaza Mayor, a big square, and then onto Parque Del Buen Retiro, a lovely big park and gardens area. Along the way we spotted some fantastic street performers, mainly 'statues'. We were not really sure how they managed to stay so still in all of their clothing on such a hot day. We also came across a few more cool art stalls which we enjoyed looking at, and even made a purchase of a painting of Don Quixote on his donkey (a Spanish folk tale).

When we got to the park it was nice to get away from the stone buildings and onto some cooler grassy areas. There was this big pond near the centre and it had lots of people in pedal boats going around on it. We enjoyed watching this and a few other street performers before finding ourselves a nice shady spot on the grass and sat down for a rest for about an hour.

It was such a novelty to be in such fantastic sunny weather. We had made a rule that we were not allowed to complain of the heat while we were here, and so far we were sticking by it.

From the park Team JJ went to the Plaza de Toros for an 8pm bullfight and we walked back towards a tube station. We had a nice walk back down some back streets. We found a fruit shop and picked up some watermelon, peaches, cherries, and a mango. I also got another ice cream at a shop.

That ended our day in Madrid city centre. It was a beautiful city to walk around in, with some amazing buildings. It was nice to get into the park and green areas with the trees, and we saw some great fountains. It was a city to walk around just to have a look, there was really no major attraction in particular to look at. We had enjoyed the day but felt like 1 day was enough for us.

Back at the bus stop we needed we bumped into an older Australian couple who had also been on the bus into the city with us this morning. We had a good chat with them, and it turned out they were in Europe in their campervan for a few months. They live in Australia, but had bought a camper. And it turned out that they had a VW Sven Hedin Westfalia! It was MUCH more modern than ours. They invited us over for a look at it back at the campground so after a small snack at the campground bar we went and had a drink with them and a tour of the van. It was similar enough to ours in layout, but with some big changes as well. They was no shower and it only had seats for 4, not 6. It was a fantastic camper though, with some many nice little touches. We had a good chat with them about their travels. It was about 10pm by the time we got back to the tent. We got ourselves ready for bed. Team JJ got back from the bullfight at 10:30pm, they had stayed for 3 bullfights. They were happy to have gone and experienced it. James felt like it was something that should be banned as it seems like a long drawn out process of killing the bull without giving the bull a real chance. In the 3rd fight they say the matador got taken out by the bull which they were happy to see. They went because it was a part of Spanish culture rather than because it was something they really wanted to see, and they were glad they had gone. Em and I were not interested in going at all and were glad we did not go.


Monday 9th

Today we decided to move on from Madrid. We had originally thought about having maybe 2 days here if required, but we felt like we could move on. We got on the road at about 10am and drove 65km south to Toledo. We were excited to go there just from hearing the name, it conjured up memories of Robin saying "Holy toledo batman".

It was a beautiful little town. We had a good walk around. Lots of very old buildings and cobbled streets and laneways, all spread over a hilltop. We enjoyed walking around for a couple of hours. James and I went and moved the van because of parking, and then had a long walk back into the town in the afternoon heat. We met up with Em and Julz and went for lunch. We chose a place which did an €8 set menu. For entrees Team JJ got paella, Em got gazpacho (a cold tomato soup) and I got hot chicken noodle soup with ham in it. They were all quite tasty, but Em's was my favourite. It was so refreshing, especially in this weather. We ordered drinks as well, which were included in the menu, and Julz and I ordered wine. The waiter brought out a whole bottle and just left it on the table! We were expecting a small glass each.

For mains, their were 4 choices so we each ordered one and that way we could try them all. There was chicken, fish, pork, and what we thought was lamb. It turns out that the word got lost in translation, and it was not lamb, but tripe. We did all try it, but none of us liked it, the texture was very slimy. We were glad we had decided to go for all 4 dishes, I am sure if we thought it was lamb we could have ended up with 2 or 3 servings of tripe, not 1!

After a small dessert, the boys had ice cream and the girls custard, we were done. All of that for €8 per person. We were re-energised and ready to keep on driving.

We travelled 150km further south towards Cordoba where we stopped in Santa Elena, a small sleepy litle town. Along that drive there was mainly vineyards and olive groves, not many other crops. The real novelty was that Em spotted a cloud, just one, but she spotted it. It was quite a slow drive because there was a lot of uphill driving.

We got the campsite set up, which did not include putting up the tent this time, the ground was like a rock, and even though James had a hammer in the van, there was no way the pegs were going into the ground. That was okay though, Dusty had sleeping room for 4. We just felt it would be more comfortable if we had a tent, just to give everyone a little more space, especially given the temperatures which we had experienced so far.

Out first stop after getitng the campsite set up was the pool for a swim. After cooling down we headed for a small walk around the town. It seemed like it was deserted. All the doors and window shutters were closed, there was no one on the streets, it was bizarre. But this is normal – it was siesta time! We found  a small shop where we got an ice cream and had a chat to a random Spanish guy who claimed to play the guitar. We continued our small walk around and found the little Plaza de Toros (bullfighting ring) before heading back to the campground. The planned dinner was kofta, but the mince did not seem safe to eat, so we just went to the campground and had dinner at the bar.

After dinner we played cards in the van before calling it a day at about 11pm, the 4 of us sleeping quite comfortably in Dusty.


Tuesday 10th

We woke at 7am to a cool morning, probably 12-14°c, which was much cooler than Madrid. Probably because we were much higher here than we had been in Madrid.

We had breakfast and got the campsite packed up. We gave the mince to the campsite cats which was entertaining, and they seemed like very grateful recipients.

We got on the road at 8:45am, and had 150km to get to Cordoba. Along this stretch the countryside flattened out again and there was mainly only olive groves, not so many vineyards around this area.

We arrived into Cordoba at about 11am, and went to a campsite 'Camping de brilliance' where we checked in. This campsite ended up setting the record for most expensive campsite that we had in Spain, €48 for 1 night!

After getting the van set up and the tent pitched, which was easy here in the sandy ground we headed into town. The main reason we had come to Cordoba was because we had read there was a guitar festival on during the first 2 weeks of July, and we thought it could be an ideal place to get some flamenco guitar. On our walk into the city we spotted posters for the festival despite being told by the campground person that there was nothing on. When we got into the city we managed to find out some information and there were concerts on everynight, 3 tonight, but none were flamenco unfortunately.

The walk into Cordoba gave us an impression that it was a rich city. The tree lined streets, marble footpaths, fountains everywhere, and the buildings were highly decorated. It really was a beautiful city. We felt quite underdressed in our travelling clothes compared to the very fashionable people walking the streets.

Yet again our tummies got the better of us and we headed for a restaraunt after stopping at Plaza de las Tendillas. We choose 4 dishes here, the most interesting of which was a raw fish dish with oranges, onions and olive oil. It was quite tasty and probably the favourite out of all the ones we had ordered.

After lunch we continued our touristing, walking to Plaza Corredera and along some small back streets and coming out to the river. Here we headed towards the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). We walked across the old bridge. In the middle there was a violinist busking. It was uncomfortable to walk past. Either his amp was bad or he was terrible.

We walked around the Mosque Cathedral area from here, decided not to go in. Buildings of religious nature started on this site at around 600AD with a Christian building. In the 700s it then became a mosque with a significant number of additions and remained this way for around 500 years when King Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured Cordoba and it was turned into a Catholic church.

By this stage most of the shops had closed for the afternoon, so we walked back to the campground. It was getting pretty hot by this stage, 36°c. It was 4pm when we got back to the campground. From the past couple of days it seemed like 4-5pm was the hottest time of the day. When we got back we headed straight for the campground swimming pool, and enjoyed a couple of nice swims here.

We were refreshed enough to go back out into the heat and walk to a nearby supermarket. It was a great experience. We all love supermarkets in foreign countries and this one was fantastic. We spent a good while wandering around enjoying looking at the range of produce. There were whole legs of ham, which started from €39, wine starting from €1.50 a bottle and fresh apricots and nectarines for €2/kg. We bought food for a van picnic for dinner and some refreshments as well as ice. It was tough walk back to the van. Team JJ and Em were starting to look quite pink and poor Em was starting to feel naeusous as well, probably due to heat stroke, or the beginnings of. Turns out the Tramadol pain relief for her back causes photosensitivity. When we got back to the campground Em lay down for a rest. We had some lemon sorbet which we had to eat before it melted, then we got into some fruit as well. At about 8pm we got out some cheese, salami, and pate to snack on while we played some yahtzee. Then at 10pm our eating continued, having burritos for dinner, not because we needed them, but because we had the food for them and it needed to be eaten. It was still in the high 20s, by far our hottest night yet.

It was after 11pm when we made it bed after cleaning up from dinner. It had been a great day, we all really enjoyed our time in Cordoba.


Wednesday 11th

We were up just before 8am and it took us until about 9:30am to get everything packed up and ourselves organised before we hit the road to drive further south, in the direction of Seville. The olive groves continued, but there were also lots of sunflower fields. The countryside was very dry and barren.

At about 11:30am we were driving along and spotted an amazing castle looking place on a hillside so managed to take the next exit and we ended up in Carmona.
We parked up and made our way into the small town. It is apparently a very popular tourist stop along this trip. We did not know this, we thought we had just done some amazing touristing, stopping in at a great find. Still we were happy we had stopped. We had a small snack, which included fish roe and a drink, which we thought was lemonade, but was actually red wine and lemonade. Our translation for the fish roe was egg, which was partly right I suppose. Although not what we’d exptected, it was quite nice.After our snack we wandered around the old town which was really nice. Again lots of narrow, cobbled streets, buildings not all square, all made from light brown stone. We made it to the castle building, but it is now a hotel, so did not go inside that. To add to our experience we spotted a great little fruit and vege shop and they were selling watermelons for €0.24/kg. This was not something we could turn down. We thought about getting a half, but went for a small whole one It turned out to still be 7kg! Hopefully it would be worth it.

After a very disappointing lunch which we made a bad restaraunt selection we got another snack. Thankfully our lunch was only small portions, not full size, so we did not have to eat much. When we got back to the van we had watermelon which we had left over from the previous day and it was delicious. We had to eat it so we could get into our new 7kg one.

We got back on the road at 3pm and changed our plans from going to Seville, to head further south for the coast. We had a good trip, passing through hundreds of acres of corn fields. This time we spent more time off the main motorways and just on two lane roads. This was not so good, there was some dodgy driving going on by some of the cars around us. We made it safely to a small town called Conil, which seemed like a tourist hot spot.

We went to the supermarket and got food for a van picnic for dinner including meat, cheese, and bread. James and I had started a new hunt, trying to find the cheapest beer and we found one for €0.24c a can, so we got a couple of try.

We made our way to Camping Los Eucaliptos, which as the name suggests was a campground with lots of Eucalyptus trees in it. We got all set up then had dinner and then cracked open our new watermelon for dessert. It was delicious, Em who does not even like watermelon said "That watermelon is nice". Team JJ went and skyped thier families as it had been a few weeks and Em and I cleaned up after dinner and did some planning for the next few days ahead.


Thursday 12th

We were up at 6am to allow oursevles enough time to pack up and get on the road early. We left just before 8am and had a pleasant journey before the sun really got going. We stopped into a small town, Tarifa as you could see Africa (Morocco) from here. James found a dead snake on the side of the road as well. Tarifa was a pretty run-down kind of place, we didn’t look around.

The view of Africa was amazing, it was only 10km away so there was no difficulties seeing it.

While we were there we saw adverts for boats for day trips to Morocco. We parked up in town and made some enqiries, but after doing some research we decided not to go.

We got some ingredients and made our own bocadillos (large ham and cheese sandwiches on flat chewy buns) for a snack. At about midday we got on the road and drove to La Linea, a spanish town near the border with Gibraltar.

We had about a 10 minute walk to the border and it was an official border. It was rather relaxed, but we did need our passports. The guy on the customs gate asked us where we were from, it turns out he was from Napier. He had married a Spanish girl and they had moved there from England. He asked us if we wanted a stamp in our passport which was a definite “yes”, so that was very cool.

From customs we walked towards the main part of Gibraltar, across the runway of the airport. To get in and out of Gibraltar there is one road and it goes across the airport runway! Team JJ had seen a documentary called “World’s Top Ten Most Dangerous Airports”, which featured Gibraltar.

Once we got into the city centre we were amazed at how British it was, more so than London! The currency in Gibraltar was the pound sterling as well. We had 'fish & chips' for lunch, Em and I had a burger. While we were eating lunch we heard two fighter jets take off on the runway, it was amazingly loud, we were gutted to not be able to see them.

After lunch we walked the streets to find the cable car. We took a rather roundabut route, up hills and stairs, only to end up walking back down hill to get to it. Eventually we found it and the queue was not too bad. At 2:30pm we caught the cable car up. It was a 6 minute journey to the top, and we hopped off at 412m above sea level on top of the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s an interesting outcrop – very high, surrounded by the very flat coastland around it.
We spent almost 2 hours up here watching the Barbary Macaques, the only primates in Europe. They were very tame and would come very close to you. We saw them climb on people and we had been warned do not leave zips free, they will open your bag and take your stuff. They were very entertaining to watch – babies, young ones, mothers, grand-daddies etc. We also spent lots of time watching the cloud. It was on one side of the rock and blowing up and over the top of it. It was like watching water moving in the sky, like an upside down waterfall. We managed to get some good views from up there too and saw a plane take off at the airport as well which we were happy about.

At about 4:30pm we caught the cable car down and walked back along the main street, browsing a few of the shops before walking back into Spanish territory. It was again very hot and ice cream time so that was our first stop. It was only a McDonalds sundae but it did the job nicely. Then we went to a supermarket to get food for dinner before driving to a campground near Marbella. We set up camp and pitched the tent, then had dinner at about 10pm, making it to bed at about 11:30pm. We all really enjoyed Gibraltar, the macaques were great to watch. We would definately recommend it to anyone who is passing by, a must see / experience.


Friday 13th

After the long day yesterday and late night we had a small sleep in until after 8am. After the normal campground pack up Em and I headed to the beach which was only a couple of minutes walk. Just before we were about to go a van pulled up in the campground selling delicious breads and sweets, so we bought a couple to have later on for morning tea.

When we got to the beach it was quite hazy, almost a sea fog which limited our visibility quite a lot. Still we were a little shocked as we walked along looking for a spot, when the beach transitioned from a standard beach to a nudist beach. Thankfully the sea fog blurred the details, however we may never forget seeing nude soccer being played!

We headed back to the campground and got chatting to our neighbours their who were Kiwis, Mark and Mandy. They had been driving around Spain for a while and gave us a good couple of recommendations and a map for later on in our trip at Cabo de Gata National Park which was great.

We had a cup of tea and our yummy treats before leaving the campground and heading back to the beach. The sea fog had mostly cleared and after showing James and Julie our morning findings (much to our recurrent amusement) we settled in at a conventional part of the beach and had a nice swim.

We got back on the road and drove east where we stopped at a supermarket near Malaga to pick up food for lunch and dinner. We had tasty rolls with the usual ingredients (cheese, salami/ham, avocado, tomato, etc). This was accomanied by tasty watermelon which we had to finish as we had no way of keeping it cool. It was a hot afternoon in Malaga but it would not prepare us for our next stop. We headed inland to Grenada and arrived after a couple of hours of lovely driving through undulating countryside. We got back into olive grove territory, we must have passed thousands of acres. There was also some natural vegetation around so it was an enjoyable drive. It was also the hottest trip yet. At 5pm it was around 40°c! Dusty did a fantastic job, as did James at the wheel. When we made it to Grenada the GPS had a melt down, not sure if it was related to the heat or just had some roads in it that really were only dirt tracks, but it tried taking us an impossible route. We found a supermarket along our travels and picked up a few supplies . We also found frozen fruit sorbet served in the actual fruit (i.e. hollowed out lemons and oranges, filled with sorbet, all frozen). I had orange and Em had lemon. It was super tasty and extra refreshing in the heat. You could also get ‘squash’ sorbet, but it didn’t really look appealing.

We  managed to get to the campground at just before 7pm. We set up camp quickly and hit the pool. It was only us in it and it was the most welcomed swim of the trip. We had a quick dinner in the van and then at 8:30pm we got picked up on a bus from the campground and taken to a Flamenco show in Grenada itself. It was about 9pm when we arrived and we saw that it was still 36°c.

The flamenco show was touristy, but also very cool. The muscians were great and some of the dancers were fantastic. We’d wanted to see some flamenco, so it was well worth coming to. It went on for a little over an hour.

After the show we were taken on a small working tour around part of the old town, and taken to a great viewing point of the Alhambra (a wonderful palace and gardens on a hillside) which looked stunning at night time. We got dropped back to the campground by the bus. It was still 32°c, so it seemed we were in for a hot night. It was about  11:30pm when we got back.We pitched our tent which was quite easy despite being pitch black, as we had had good practise over the past few days. We eventually got to bed after midnight.


Saturday 14th

We were up at 6:30am and caught the 8am bus into the city. While we were waiting for the bus the police arrived to wake a guy up sleeping in the bus shelter. From what we could make out he had had a big night the night before and not quite made it home, sleeping there the night. I suppose no problems with hypothermia at that time of the year.

We got into the city easy enough, but then became a little lost walking to the Alhambra. We had not managed to get a map, but thankfully James had bought the GPS and it helped us get back on track, managing to get up the massive hill just before 9:30am and staying in the shade.
There are a limited number of tickets to the Alhambra each day so we wanted to make sure we did not miss out. We had no problems at all and headed on in.

We were lucky enough to remain in shade for the first hour as well which helped out a lot. It was a stunning place to visit, with amazing views of the city below, and fantastic gardens and grounds. There were brilliant fountains and water features. It was lovely to visit the gardens.
At 11:30am we had our ticket for the tour of the palace. In places it was amazingly decorated with intricate patterns on the walls and ceilings, in Islamic style.

After finishing in the palace we walked the last part that we had not yet seen by which time we had had enough.  It was after 12 midday by this stage. We walked down a big hill into town. We were all pretty hungry by this stage. We eventually found a bar that served free tapas with a drink, so we had a drink there, but we needed more substantial food, so we found a meal to have. It was not brilliant but it satisfied the hunger.
It was again getting pretty hot by this stage and we were all pretty tired. We started our search for a bus stop. We walked for a good 45 minutes before we eventually found where we needed to go. It was about 4pm when we got onto the bus and 40°c. Thankfully there was a breeze which kept things a little cooler. I would say although none of us complained about the heat (we had a rule!) it was exhausting that day. We had had enough and wanted to get back to the pool to cool down. We were thankful to be on the bus.

When we got back we had a swim and it was lovely. After spending a good hour in the pool Em and I walked down to a nearby supermarket to top up our supplies for dinner.

When we got back we had a few drinks and snacks and played cards. When James and I went to pay for the campground we were chatting to the guy their who told us about the nearby Sierra Nevada (‘Snowy Mountains’) where you can ski in the winter time. During the winter in Grenada it got down to -12°c, quite amazing given the current heat. From the top of those mountains you can see Africa as well on a clear day.

We had another swim and then showers before having bread rolls and fruit for dinner. We played more cards before calling it a day at 10pm. It was cooler so we were looking forward to getting a good nights sleep. Unfortunately this was not the case, there were dogs barking all night long. Our tent walls didn't seem to block out that noise.


Sunday 15th

It was another early start this morning, getting up just after 6am to shower, have breakfast and pack up our campsite. We were on the road just before 7:30am and heading east for 230km to Cabo de Gata National Park, hoping to avoid driving in the peak heat of the day. This is the area Mark and Mandy had given us some recommendations, so we were very excited about the quiet beaches that we were heading towards. Cabo de Gata has a rich history for locations in cinema, none more so than films including 'The Rat Patrol', 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly', 'A Fistful of Dollars', and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'.

Along the way in the mountains we spotted houses built into the hills, so the front of the house was level with the cliff face, it looked cool. It seemed like it must get very hot in this area in the summer and possibly also as cold in winter.

A good while into the trip we came across a single vehicle crash on the motorway. We were about 4th on the scene, and stopped, but thankfully the lady in the car seemed okay.  After spending about 5 minutes there we were of little help really, given our lack of Spanish and the fact that the emergency services were on their way so we got back on the road. We contined on to Carboneras where we picked up some bread and a snack and then drove south to Playa de los Muertos (“Beach of the Dead”!), the beach recommended to us. We parked up and noticed this was probably different from the day Mark and Mandy were there, when they had the beach to themselves - there we cars everywhere. We parked up and had lunch, and then got our things together and walked the 500m walk down a rocky hill to the beach. It was starting to get pretty hot by this stage, and more and more people were arriving. We ended up walking down to  the far end of the beach, but it was pretty packed. We found a spot and set up there. It was a nice beach alright, covered in small colourful pebbles which did not hurt your feet, but made walking hard work. Since it was the weekend the locals must have flocked to the beach because it seemed like almost everyone was Spanish.

We spent about 3 hours on the beach, lazing in the sun, and enjoying the swimming. It was a nice beach to swim at and the water was fantastically warm. By the time we were leaving it was pretty packed. We felt like we were starting to get sun burnt, so thought we had better finish there. The walk back up the hill to the van was made a little more pleasant by the wind.

We chose a campground on our map and had about a 40 minute drive to get there, picking up ice along the way. Once we arrived at Las Negras campground, which was right on the sea shore, but still had a swimming pool as well, we chose our campsite after careful consideration. We went through the usual campsite set up, plugging in power and setting up a washing line.

It then became apparent that we all had been in the sun a little too long today, we kept getting redder, no one more than Em. She was glowing fluorescent.

After playing some cards and having a snack we went swimming at the beach. The sun was much less intense and we felt safe enough. The water was cool, but it was a nice swim. On the way back we checked out the pool. We were a little cold from the sea, and when we felt the pool it was like a bath tub so we had a lovely swim in that as well before heading back to the van.

When we got back we had a few drinks and dinner at about 9:30pm. Em and I went to do the dishes after dinner, but do you think we could find the tap at the sinks. There was a sink with a water spout but no tap. About 5 minutes later someone else came along and showed us that the tap was a button on the ground you operated with your foot! It was dark by this stage so we did not feel like complete idiots, but pretty much. When we got back we put up our tent. It was operation stealth, which we had done in most campgrounds along the way. It seemed that in Spain that you paid per item on the site, not for a site which we thought was ridiculous, especially as the tent was only a 2 person tent and we used it for sleeping, so we did the cheeky thing and put it up under the cover of darkness. We were in bed by about 11pm.


Monday 16th

With a few later nights in a row we let ourselves have a bit of a sleep in. It was about 8:30am when we were up. We got on the road at about 10:30am and after taking a wrong turn (which was not helped by the GPS) we got ourselves back on track heading past Campohermoso, a town which seems to specialise in glass houses. There were literally 100s, probably 1000s of acres of glass houses. It was amazing to see. Not sure why they needed the glass houses, maybe to grow here during the winter as well, we really we not sure. There was definitely no need to intensify the summer heat.

We were now heading north towards Alicante. It was very deserty, barren land. We could now see why this area had been used in Westerns, it seemed like Clint Eastwood was going to come over the hill on a horse at any time. As we got further north the terrain became more mountainous again and we started to see big fields of stone fruits, melons, and olive groves.

We were all starting to get very hungry and after passing a few towns which seemed to have little to offer we exited in Fuente Alamo and spotted a place doing lunch. The Menu del dia (“menu of the day”) seemed good from what we could translate, with a large seasoning of hunger we were sure we could not be disappointed. Fuente Alamo seemed like a very small town, very untouristy. When we walked in we had a lovely waitress who did not have any English. We all ordered off the set menu and because we were so hungry and could see food there, we ordered 5 tapas from various dishes on the counter. They were delicious. Our set menu food was also pretty tasty. It was a very enjoyable lunch, eating with the locals. We saw a lot of workmen come in for their lunch while we were there, it really was just a local pub. Before we left our waitress gave us each a shot glass of ice cold lemonicello from the freezer which was very tasty and refreshing. We were sad to have finished our most enjoyable eating experience in España so far. The food was super tasty, cheap, and our waitress was very nice.

After lunch we continued north, stopped at Punta Brava to check out the lagoon after reading something interesting about it in the Lonely Planet, but it was not that impressive. In the distance we could make out the penninsula crawling with high-rise buildings.

As we were now quite coastal it was quite flat, but the melons and olive groves continued. We eventually came to Santa Pola where we spotted a large number of kite suffers. We parked up and went to the beach, passing one of the biggest piles of salt I have ever seen. We’re sure there is big demand here, given how much preserved meat there is.

The kite surfers were fun to watch for a while.

We found a campground not too far away. The guy in the office was very friendly, we had a bit of a chat to him and then he took us to our site. It was a huge campground with over 400 sites. It must have been at least 10 acres. He drove in a golf-buggy to show us the way. We got a good site and set up camp. We put our watermelon on ice and had a few drinks and snacks while we played some cards before having dinner, which was another van picnic. It was just too hot to eat a proper meal and we had eaten enough at lunch time!

When we were checking in the campground guy had told us of a festival on today and there would be fire works, so just before 11pm we headed for the beach. It was a good 30 minute walk but we found our way okay. From what we could work out it was a festival to do with children, as we saw lots of young girls aged about 8-10 years old dressed up in very fancy white dresses and some traditional dresses with aprons and puffed sleeves. It was a very fun family atmosphere. At 11:30pm the fireworks went off and we had a nice time watching those. After they were done we headed back to the campground and went to bed.


Tuesday 17th

We had a small sleep in before getting up, and getting ready for the day. From the campsite we headed to the beach nearby. It was another beautiful morning. We parked up and spotted a cheap $2 type shop. At previous beaches we had spotted lots of people playing a game like patter tennis with two plastic or wooden paddles and a rubber type ball. We found a set here and when we hit the beach we were into it! It was great fun. The beach was very shallow, which was good for this, but when we tried to go out deeper it was super weedy. We had a lovely time there before the sun really got cranking, as did the crowds. When we arrived there was 2 rows of people on the beach. When we left there must have been 5. People love the beach here! We noticed that there were wooden planks laid to make pathways all the way to the water for people in wheelchairs at many beaches. Today we saw a group of rest-home residents and their carers arrive at the beach, walking frames, wheelchairs and all. They set up the residents in deck chairs with their feet in the water – lovely!

When we had finished at the beach we went to an Aldi supermarket nearby and picked up some food for lunch. Emma and James got sucked in by an attractively presented bottle of olives which was quite expensive… and weren’t spectacular taste-wise. After lunch we had ice blocks from the supermarket then got on the road for the 220km drive to Valencia, our next stop. It was a nice drive, with hilly countryside. As we got closer to Valencia the oranges started, and they did not stop. They just kept on going as far as the eye could see. Interstingly near our campground we noticed the were rice paddies. We had read that Valencia was the home of paella and were looking forward to getting some here.

When we finally checked into our campground we found out that they cooked Paella at the campground restaraunt. We thought about it, then decided to go ahead and order one for 9pm.

Once we set up camp we got some washing on, then headed to the beach for a swim. It was a very popular place but we managed to find a nice place on the beach. Turns out this beach was a nudist beach as well, a pretty common occurence in Spain as we were finding out. Still we had a nice swim in the warm water with our togs on before heading back to the campground.

After getting washing hang up to make use of the nice hot weather we had a few drinks, some snacks and played some cards. James and Julie had bought a bottle of Moet so we decided this was the best opportunity to have it.

At 9pm we headed to the campground restaraunt and had our Paella with some Sangria. Both were delicious, althought the paella was slightly burnt on the bottom. We had a nice evening there before heading back to the van and off to bed.


Wednesday 18th

Today was our day in Valencia so we were up at 7:30am. It took us a while to get organised, and we just missed the 9:15am bus, meaning it was 9:45am before we were on the bus.

We were very impressed with what we saw of Valencia on our bus ride in and were looking forward to the day ahead. We hopped off the bus on a beautiful tree lined street with very well kept, beautifully decorated buildings. We set off on a bit of a walking tour taking in the sites of the city including the Mercado de Colon (indoor market space), Plaza de Toros (bullfighting ring), and just enjoying the streets. It was a beautiful city. There were nice squares with fountains, gardens and tree lined streets. We eventually found our way to the Mercado Central. This was a food market which was fantastic. They had meat, fish, fruit, vege, cheese, and lots of other delicious food. Whole salmon was €6/kg, the cherries and stone fruit looked delicious. We browsed and bought a few snacks with a plan to come back later in the day.

We continued our walking tour around the old town, stopping in at the Catedral where we saw a very random thing - the shrivelled up arm of Saint Vincent. The main attraction of this was the 'Holy Grail', the chalice the Jesus is holding in the last supper. It was very well protected obviously so we did not get a great view.

From here we walked to the river which is no longer a river. They turned it into a nice park, not sure where the water went, but it is not there anymore. We managed to find our way back to the Mercado Central after getting a little lost due to the map we were using, it was missing a lot of street names. We picked up a few more snacks and some fruit. We were going to have lunch there but there really was no lunch food, so we went across the road to a Tapas bar. We sat up at the bar and picked out a few nice looking dishes and enjoyed the lunch, but we were still a little hungry. We decided we had tried the main dishes that we wanted to and paid. Turns out it was €40! Oops. we were a little shocked.

By this time we had pretty much done most of our touristing, but there were a couple more sights to get to. So we set off on a walk, we were all pretty tired by this stage and it was getting hot as it was about 3pm. We walked along the beautiful tree lined street that we came along on the bus this morning. At the end in the 'river' park was a massive Gulliver (lying on his side on the ground) which was a playground, and it was empty. We did not go on it, it was way too hot, but it was cool to see. We had spotted it on some postcards, so wanted to check it out. From here we walked to some of coolest buildings we have ever seen, a group of 5 buildings including the Palau de les Arts (Palace of the Arts), Hemispheric, Science Museum, Aquarium and Agora.

We spent a long time wandering around and looking at these buildings which resemble something from outer space. We really enjoyed looking around at them.

It was about 5pm when the bus came and we headed back to the campground. We were all pretty wrecked by this stage, but wanted a swim, so we ordered a paella from the restaraunt to have later on, then headed to the beach for a swim and a relax. After a couple of hours the sun heat was fading so we headed back. After a delicious paella, much better than the night before, we had watermelon back at the van for dessert before going to bed at 10:30pm.


Thursday 19th

Our initial plan was to leave Valencia this morning, but we had some unfinished business, so we caught the 8:45am bus into the city, getting off outside the science museum. James and I wanted to go to the museum and Julie and Em wanted to go to shopping.

Unfortunately we had arrived too early, it did not open until 10am. We wasted time outside, including talking into a massive arch which carried your voice from one end to the other. It was very cool. Em and Julie had a successful shopping trip. When the museum opened up at 10am we only had an hour and we were told it was not worth going in, so we headed back to the campground.
Em and Julz came back to the campground and then we checked out and parked up the van at the beach carpark. We had lunch, then headed back into town again where James and I did finally go to the Science Museum and Em and Julz went to the America's Cup village. We had a fantastic time in the museum, it was by far the best science museum we had been to, lots of cool things to play on. We were there for about 3 hours before we met up with Em and Julz. They had a nice time at the beach, but the America's Cup village was non-existent, nothing like the viaduct in Auckland. They’d had a swim on the main beach, which had beautiful golden sand.

We were back at the van at 5:00pm and got on the road to head north for about 150km. The drive was amazing, it was literally oranges trees as far as the eye could see for at least the first 100km. Amazing to see so many. Along the way we picked up some groceries for dinner, and then managed to find a campground at Sant Carles de la Rapita, about 200km south of Barcelona. The guy there was very friendly and we got a great spot on the shore line. 

We had  lovely evening in the van enjoying the tasty food we had picked up and a few drinks while we played cards and just chatted. We had dinner at 10pm and we ended up talking until about 2am. This was going to be our last proper night together, before Barcelona tomorrow.


Friday 20th

The morning sun quickly heated up our tent and it was about 8am when we were up. Em and I went for a swim which was a little tricky because the rocks near the shore line were so slippery, but we managed anyway.  After breakfast James and Julie went and used the internet to get a few odd jobs done and we packed up the tent, the last time it would be coming out on this trip. It did a great job, and the air bed was a very good thing to have, it was extremely comfortable.

The campground owner had told us that today was their festival day, similar to the one that was on in Santa Pola, 4 days ago. There were a few events on in town, so we left the campground and drove the short distance into town.

The was a parade on, it was pretty short though, we caught the tail end of it, but could see the start at the same time. There was only a small crowd there. Afterwards our tummies were rumbling, so we got an early lunch. We picked up an ice cream on the way back to Dusty and hit the road, next stop were flamingos, there were supposed to be plenty living nearby.

We managed to find the area okay with James doing some fantastic driving down single lane roads which were servicing traffic in both directions. We did manage to see a few flamingos in the salty marsh areas, but not a massive group of them. Some had parts that were incredibly pink.

We then had a drive of nearly 300km to Barcelona. Along the way we decided to recalculate to include tolls because the day was passing by. This cut off 80km, so it was a good decision. We had a nice trip over, with great scenery. It was very mountinous in areas, and plenty of rice paddies around as well. The sun was baking us all as it was about 35°c.

Em and I had booked a hotel in Barcelona and we were a little worried it was going to be some crazy driving for James. Thankfully it was a smooth run with no major roads and we arrived at just after 5pm, with no 5 o'clock rush evident.

After checking in we were going to check out our room to see if James and Julie could crash in it, but no way! The security was very good, you needed a swipe card to gain access (1 per person) and when we saw the room there was nowhere near enough room, so after we dropped our bags off, we got Dusty parked up in a nice street nearby and checked with the staff at the hotel if it was a safe neighbourhood, which they said it was. They had to pay for parking until 8pm and then no charges until Monday monring which was great.

We walked up a nearby road which was taking us directly towards the Sagrada Familia (“Holy Family” church). We stopped for dinner along the way, paella, and it was better than we were expecting.

We continued on to the Sagrada Familia and surprise suprise, there was a large amount of scaffolding on it. To be fair, I think it has had scaffolding on it for many years (it is still under construction), so Em and I were not too worried. It was massive, huge, collosal. It was an amazing building, but very random, and personally I thought it was ugly.

From here we tubed to the Magic Fountain. James and Julie had shown us a video of this when they were in Barcelona a couple of years ago and we were very much looking forward to seeing it.

We arrived at about 8pm and it was still light, the fountain started, ‘dancing’ to various songs. It was amazing, but when it went dark and they had coloured lights as well, which made it so much more of a spectacle. It was very cool to see, and entertaining to see crowds of people near to the fountain occassionally make a mad dash to avoid getting drenched.

It was about 10:30pm when we got back to the hotel. James and Julie hopped into Dusty and we headed up to our small room. We were exhausted.


Saturday 21st

We had an early enough start and a short 60km drive to Monserrat. It was a nice morning but a little cooler at the base of Montserrat. We were pretty early by the look of the carpark, there was hardly anyone else there. We got our things together and prepared for our last morning of touristing with Team JJ for probably a good while.

We caught the train up the mountain, which was a half hour journey. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy, but we were still welcomed at the top with some amazing views.

Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey, set in jagged mountains an hour from Barcelona, built in the 1400’s.

We spent a couple of hours having a good wander around the area, looking in and around the old buildings and enjoying watching the super steep funicular go up and down. We did a small walk further on which took us to this great rocky outcrop and gave us better views of the countryside but also a great view looking back at the monastery.

At the end of it, about 1:30pm we were relaxing waiting for the train and we spotted these tiny orange dots in multiple places on the rock faces. At first we thought that these were some sort of markers, and then we realised they were rock climbers. Wow, they were up an incredibly long way. The views must have been stunning from up that high.

We caught the train back down and relaxed for the 25 minute journey. When we got down to the bottom we went over the Dusty and said goodbye to James and Julie. It was sad that our trip had come to an end, but we were super excited for them about their coming months of exploration around Europe. We just wished we could join them.

When they left we had a small wait and then caught a train to the next station, where we had to hope off and change onto another train.

We got to the next station okay, and got off. We went to buy our tickets, and was going to use a €50 note, but the machine did not accept it. We let the person behind us go while we counted up all of our money including every coin we had, and we were 50c short! Thankfully the person in front of us kindly gave us 50c and we were on the train just in time. We were so thankful.

Along the way we just relaxed, enjoying the break after our morning of exploring. We were chatting away and thought we were getting closer and closer and were keeping an eye on station names. About 10 minutes later we saw the same name twice and realised we had turned around and were going back in the direction we’d just come from! We got off at the next stop and it was not a big mistake, we got on another train and were back to where we should have been in the first place.

We headed back to the part of Barcelona where we were the previous night, in the area around the Magic Fountain. Our first stop was food and a drink as we were pretty hungry and thirsty. With our bellies topped up we headed for the Olympic village and stadium. It was a good walk, but easy to find. When we arrived the stadium is open to the public so we went inside and walked around. It was so small by today’s standards, but we saw the olympic flame cauldron where the arrow was shot to ignite it. It was really the first Olympics that we both remembered, so we were extra excited to be there. We walked around the Olympic area for a while longer, then we set off for towards Las Ramblas (the main shopping and eating street in Barcelona), which was about 7km away.

We were going to catch the train, but were happy to be walking and along the way we came across a parade, similar to the ones we saw in Santa Pola and also in Sant Carlas de la Rapita. It was loud and lots of fun, so we followed that for a while. Then a bit further along we came across some street markets that had some delicious food stalls which we enjoyed sampling a few small bits and pieces from. We were thrilled to be having an afternoon like this because it really was something we had missed in Spain so far, getting genuine local food and culture.

From here we continued on walking and ended up at the column, at the bottom of La Ramblas, probably the most famous street of Barcelona. This is also one of the most famous pick pocket sites in the world, so we went into full lock down with our bags and pockets. As it was Saturday night we were sure it was going to be packed. It turned out it was busy, but not jam packed, so we felt a little more at ease, although we were still very vigilent. Where we started there were about 5 street performers dressed up in various costumes posing as 'statues' although some moved much more than others. Further along there were plenty of stalls including artists selling paintings as well as artists doing paintings such as portraits or caricatures. They are always entertaining to watch.

What amazed us most is all the eateries in the area were pretty packed, crazy (we always try and avoid eating in the main tourist areas – usually not great food, and usually a rip-off!). We walked up to the top and then decided we would start to wander back towards the hotel. We came across the Arc De Triumf, it seems many cities in Europe have one of these. It looked very cool as it was now after 9pm and dark, and was lit up impressively. We stopped in at a small shop near our hotel to pick up some yoghurt, cereal and juice and then made it back to our room at about 10pm. A long day with many kilometres walked, from the Olympic village it was about 10km back to our hotel! Em did amazingly well with her sore back and it is great she was able to do so much walking and touristing.


Sunday 22nd

After our long day touristing yesterday we were up at 8am. We got ready then tubed to the Picasso museum, stopping in at a nearby cafe for a small breakfast along the way. By the time we got there it was just opening time, and the queue was slow to move, but we made it in in good time and the queue was far longer by this stage which is always nice to see when you’re not in it any more. Em and I both love Picasso so we were very excited to be at this museum. We spent a little bit more than 2 hours here, which is roughly our limit for slow moving experiences (we get museum legs). It was great, it had hundreds of pieces of his work and had little pieces of information about his life. Wow he was prolific, and an amazing artist from such a young age (there were pictures of his from his early teen years, which were brilliant). After doing the main museum we found ourselves walking into another exhabition which was very random and quite boring. We were supposed to have paid for that as well, but nothing got checked. Thankfully it was rubbish so we did not miss out on anything at all. There was also another small exhibition of another abstract artist which was cool, only 5 minutes to look around, but cool to see.

After we were done at the museum we were happy to break out into the freedom of normal paced walking. We were on a hunt for a market, but as it was Sunday it seemed it was closed. We kept on walking and ended up back at the Arc de Triumf. After walking around the park for a while we spotted a potential eatery and we had a fantastic lunch there. It as exactly what we were after. It was probably our best food in Spain, lots of various Tapas dishes, all delicious.

After lunch we wandered around the park again, which is near the Zoo. We thought about going to the zoo but decided against it, instead tubing to Parc Guell (a people’s park, filled with the designs of Antoni Gaudi, a very creative architect). We went a stop or two further and ended up in a random residential area, this was on purpose as there was another park we wanted to check out. It was not any good, so we continued our walk up some very hilly streets and ended up in the back of Parc Guell. We eventually ended up in the right area and found ourselves at an amazing lookout over Barcelona, out to the sea. What was most impressive was the size of the Sagrada Familia, it dominated the skyline, dwarfing every other building in the city.

Parc Guell was packed. We wandered around and looked at the Gaudi houses from the outside. We started to go inside one of them but watched a video and decided not to go any further. Lazy touristing? Maybe, but it did not seem like it was worth putting up with the crowd given our level of excitement at what we saw.

We walked a good distance from Parc Guell to a tube station and tubed back to La Rambla with a plan to pick up a couple of art pieces. We ended up finding a few paintings, and also having caricatures done of us as well. I thought they turned out pretty well. It was weird being the ones that everyone stopped to watch being drawn.

It was about 7pm when we left here and wandered along the marina, looking at the boats, and people watching. We were getting a little hungry and managed to find some dinner, pizza actually, at a funky little place. It was quite enjoyable as they had various toppings on them, you paid per piece. After dinner we picked up an ice cream and then walked back to the hotel.

It was about 9pm by this stage. It had turned into a bigger day than we had expected and yet again we had covered a lot of ground, but it was good to have seen everything we wanted to get to. Tomorrow was a free day now.


Monday 23rd

Since we did not have any 'must dos' we had a small sleep in, ate breakfast, then walked in towards town. Along the way we found a supermarket. We stopped in and picked up a couple of things, not much though as we were leaving in less than 24 hours.

We ended up back in the area of Barcelona that we were in yesterday when we were at the Picasso museum. Em had shopping on her list of things to do in Spain and until now really had not had much of a chance, so that is what we spent the morning doing. It went so well that our final purchase had to be a suitcase. To be fair, Em did not do excessive shopping, it was just easier this way as we had come over with such little gear, having a suitcase to go back would make packing a much easier job for us. We must have shopped until about 1:30pm and then it was time to hunt out lunch. We walked for a good 20 minutes before finding a nice spot in a small square, and we had the set menu. We had a mixture of tasty food here and not so good food, which was a reflection on our food choices during our time in Spain unfortunately. Still we felt like we managed to try a range of foods which was great.

Today did not seem as hot which was a bit of a shame. We walked back to the hotel, got changed, and headed to the beach for a relaxing afternoon. We both went for a short swim, but the water was nowhere near as warm as it had been in Valencia.

We had dinner at a restaraunt nearby to our hotel. Initially we had sat down at another place, and given the menu. It was about 6:45pm. At just after 7pm we got the waiter to come over and he said 'Sorry the kitchen closed at 7pm". We were disgusted, it was crazy. So we went down the road and got a little bite to eat somewhere else.

When we got back to the hotel we packed our bags and had an earlyish night.


Tuesday 24th

Today was home day. Our lovely 17 day trip to Spain, the heat, sunshine, and holiday had come to an end. This was accentuated by landing back in Dublin.

We had a straight forward morning catch the train to the airport and our flight left on time, at 11am and we had a smooth flight back.

We landed at 12:30pm Irish time to a beautifully dull, cloudy, rainy Dublin day. Yep, we were definately back. Still we felt like it did not matter if there were no more sunny days this summer, we got a good dose of it. Thanks very much Spain – Viva España!



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