Malaga to Perpignan

Monday 17th October 2011, Torrox Costa
Today we took the bus to Malaga where we spent an enjoyable day exploring the familiar streets, hunting out Picasso’s birth house and the Picasso Museum, the Roman theatre and the Alcazaba. We took the long steep path up beside the Alcazaba to the old fortress of the Gibralfaro where we recovered from our exhaustion as we enjoyed the fantastic views over the town and harbour from the battlements.

Malaga and the hills beyond from the Gibralfaro, 2004

The Alcazaba and Malaga cathedral from the Gibralfaro, 2004

Malaga port from the Gibralfaro, 2004

Malaga town hall from the Gibralfaro, 2004

Malaga bullring from the Gibralfaro, 2004

Ramparts in the Gibralfaro, Malaga, 2004

The walls of the Alcazaba, Malaga, 2004

Tuesday 18th October 2011, Granada
Today was spent travelling and settling in to the campsite in Granada. Our main intention in visiting the city was to enjoy once more the marvels of the Alhambra, so we were alarmed and suspicious when the campsite manager said that there were no tickets available for a couple of days – a way of increasing custom perhaps by making us stay longer. Going on-line we realised that what he said was true – the first available were for Thursday and even then there were only 41 left out of the 8,000 issued each day. So we went back and purchased two tickets from the office at the campsite.

Wednesday 19th October 2011, Granada
We visited the rest of Granada today, starting with the cathedral and the chapel with the elaborate tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. In the sacristy beside the tombs was an art collection which contained such iconic items as the sword and crown of Ferdinand and the art collection of Isabella, with many Flemish masterpieces. We climbed the hill to Sacramonte, an area where the bones of San Cecil and his companions were found. The area is known for its troglodyte houses, many of them now quite desirable residences, others tavernas where some of the best flamanco performers of Andalcia can be seen. Just below is the medieval Arab district of the Albaycin. Steep cobbled streets are linked by steps passing between walls overhung by flowering bushes. A modern mosque with its well-tended gardens overlooks the valley of the River Darro with the Alhambra forming a romantic silhouette on top of the hill opposite.

Sacramonte, Granada. Wikimedia Commons

Capilla Real, Granada. Wikimedia Commons

Alhambra from Albaycin, Granada. Wikimedia Commons

Granada from Sacramonte, 2004

Thursday 20th October, Granada
Our visit to the Alhambra is detailed in a separate posting.

Friday 21st October 2011, El Campello
After another day of driving along the coast we arrived at El Campello after a downpour which had caused flooding. Apparently two Brits had been washed away in a freak flood in a torrento where a market was being held.

The site was full of over-wintering Brits, Dutch, Germans, French and Danes. The atmosphere was very friendly – too friendly for us. Most of the campers return every winter and love it. They can play whist all day, watch satellite TV in the evening or sit beside the pool with a glass of sangria. Overweight overwinterers – many of them were corpulent, not to say obese, prominent among them a Dutchman whose voice boomed incessantly across the swimming pool.

Saturday 22nd October, El Campello
A light railway ran beside the campsite, so today we took it back into Almeria, a cheap and enjoyable ride along beside the sea. The station is near the market which is spotless, air-conditioned and with no flies – a contrast to the markets in Morocco with their stench, rubbish and swarms of flies. The market had sections for fish and meat where we bought a couple of empanadas with spiced lamb. Empanadas originate from South America and are a smaller version of Cornish pasties. We speculated that they may indeed have had their origin from Cornish miners who had emigrated to Argentina and Chile.

We made our way to the sea front and strolled along the Esplanada de Espana with its varied shrubs and trees, sitting in the shade to watch the families enjoying the weekend sunshine. We continued through the port and back up through the delightful town with its historic town hall in front of which fountains played. In the walls of the main church are lodged cannonballs from English ships that bombarded the town. The castle can be seen high above the beach on top of a massive rock which, with a little imagination, is shaped like a face. This explains why the castle on top of a head forms the town’s coat of arms. A curtain wall runs down the rock to the sea. We went inland to climb up to the castle through gardens. The whole castle precinct was open free of charge and had a range of cafes, shops, souvenir stalls and several displays showing the history of the castle, including an amusing cartoon history of the town with an account of a massive explosion that took place in 1706 when attempting to dislodge English troops. The castle’s history goes back to Iberian times and the area was only handed over by the military relatively recently. The views over the town and harbour and along the coast in both directions are magnificent. All in all a very pleasant day with a lunch of beer and tapas.

Esplanada de Espana, Almeria.Wikimedia Commons

Town hall, Almeria.Wikimedia Commons

Castle, Almeria.Wikimedia Commons

Harbour from the castle, Almeria.Wikimedia Commons

Sunday 23rd October, El Campello
After doing a load of washing first thing we made our way into town to catch the light railway in the opposite direction. We passed our washing fluttering happily in the breeze as the little train trundled by the campsite at the start of our 70 minute journey northwards along the coast to Benidorm. The landscape was arid with remains of terracing on the hillsides and many dried up torrentos – riverbeds that could still surge up after rain or when the snows melted. There are also many high-rise developments along this stretch of the coast.

Benidorm was a disappointment when we eventually reached it. It was not buzzing with life or full of vice or sleaze by any stretch of the imagination. With its blocks of flats down to the sea it was all rather boring. The sea front was lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and a marathon was being run along the beside the sea to half-hearted cheers and a booming loudspeaker commentary. It was very hot indeed, so we found shelter in one of the sea-front restaurants for a full Sunday roast for six Euros each. All the customers were British, the waitress was heavily tattooed and smoked but was friendly. Next door was a Spanish restaurant with paella and tortillas. It was full of locals – never the twain shall meet.

The sea front was pleasant enough but only had vistas of blocks of flats and a rocky off-shore island so, bored with the endless clothes and shoe shops we caught an early afternoon train back to El Campello. Our travel companions were a retired English couple. Each winter they rent a flat for five months but return home to England for the summer. They told us that they have a very happy life with many English friends in Spain by few back in England. They have been visiting the area for eight years now. They told us that many English people have purchased homes in Spain but cannot return to England now that their youth and health are failing. Frequently they did not speak Spanish. As the train passed the campsite and we could see Modestine, surrounded by our now dry laundry fluttering in the afternoon sunshine.

At El Campello we walked down to the seafront. Everything was clean, pleasant and lively – much better than Benidorm. We walked along the seafront and round the fishing harbour where nets had all been sorted and boats bobbed in the clear water. Shoals of tiny fish were swimming around their hulls. We tried to buy chilled white wine, but the bar was closing, so we returned to Modestine to sort our washing, cook supper, and drink our own wine. During the night a massive storm of forked lightning and crashing thunder kept us awake as rain hammered on Modestine’s roof. The thunder echoed round the hills – quite an experience!

The outskirts of Benidorm

El Montjo, Denia, on our way to Valencia

Monday 24th October 2011, Pinedo, near Valencia
Tonight we are reduced to writing our notes on scrap paper with a biro. Our computers, both of them, have been stolen in Cullera while we left Modestine for a couple of hours to find some lunch and to take a reminiscent stroll around the town. The window in the back door, always a weak feature, was forced and the door opened. Both our computers and their peripherals, a digital camera, binoculars, and various bits of electrical equipment were taken – as well as a bottle of wine – but otherwise Modestine was left untouched. Passports, vehicle documents, cards etc were with us.

The rest of the afternoon was spent finding the Guarda Civil and completing forms in Spanish. Ian coped amazingly well. Then we temporarily fixed the damaged window and are now licking our wounds on a campsite almost next door to the one we used last time we passed through Valencia in 2006 where we suffered tyre damage. Our plan had been to visit Valencia and Barcelona before returning to France. Now I imagine we will head for home as soon as possible. All our unposted blogs of Morocco with their images have been lost, as has Ian’s recent book history research, and who know what else? Fortunately we had backed everything up onto a hard drive before we left home, so only recent data has been lost.


The beach, Cullera

Tuesday 25th October 2011, Villanova
We are depressed and miserable this morning after a sleepless nigh worrying about computers and remembering different items lost in the bag of electrical equipment: surge protector, battery charger, external DVD drive, loudspeakers, wifi booster, camera leads, mice etc. There is anger and a sense of violation, almost of bereavement – the computers had become such an important travelling companions. What personal information could be available to the thieves? What will they do with the data? Might they sell it on to people who could try to access our personal details? We used the campsite computer to change all our email passwords which made us feel safer although we are fairly sure little personal detail is on the computer. We have been heartened by many messages of goodwill and sympathy from our blog followers but cannot answer them.

We decided to head straight for home and followed the coast eastwards along the mainly free motorways through an unvarying mountain landscape of dry sandy coloured limestone. Perhaps the upper layers of the limestone are so friable here rather than compacted as in northen Europe because the ice-sheets did not extend this far south. All the towns resembled each other and from the man road did not seem very picturesque with block of modern flats. The road system in Spain must be the most confusing in Europe. There is a choice of good fast roads but a plethora of signs that are unclear and confusing: AP7 A7, AV7 often on the same road or parallel ones that cross and weave, join and diverge. Roads are renamed and renumbered, some have tolls, other don’t, old road markings are not removed, there are diversions where yet more roads are being constructed. There is nowhere to stop.

We had lunch in a truck pull-in at a scruffy garage. However we had covered several hundred miles so we were making some progress. We stopped to explore a deserted coast of sand and palm trees, very clean with waves breaking onto the yellow sand. The esplanade was for us alone. It was sunny and breezy, a very pleasant spot with low rise flats just a 30 kilometre bus ride from Barcelona – a temptation if we were not heading home. The campsite is top of the range and very clean. We are sitting outside with our replacement wine as Remoska cooks us a chicken risotto.

Wednesday 26th October 2011, Colombiers, near Beziers, France
Exhausted, we slept well and in the morning paid four Euros to use the internet campsite in an unsuccessful attempt to sort out all our banking passwords and logons. A frustrating waste of an hour as eventually we were confronted with the message: Internal error, please try later. Grrrh!!

We drove north from the campsite through a beautiful green rocky woodland landscape, along winding roads, past a reservoir overlooked by a picturesque castle and the little village of Castellet. We picked up the toll motorway round Barcelona and on to Girona where we joined the N. route to the border with France in the Pyrenees. There was chaos at Perthus with Franch vehicles at the border collecting, presumably, duty free goods in the shops that lined the narrow main street. There was no sign of border officials which was just as well as the French cars crossed the border simply to find a turning space.

Approaching the Pyrenees

We drove on north, past Perpignan and Narbonne towards Beziers. We turned off to the campsite at Colombiers near the Celtic oppidum at Enserune and the Lac de Montady. All familiar places with lots of memories, and we would have loved to linger. We settled in to the campsite in the middle of the garrigue with a bottle of local red wine from Minervois. We telephoned our friends Christine and Mostyn just a few miles away, but they are driving to England tomorrow so we will miss them. We also had a text from Jeev to say that Indi has been ill and was taken to hospital. She is now recovered and back home this evening, so everyone is relieved but it confirmed the necessity to return home as soon as possible.