Day 240: Big Moment

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Although we had the possibility of a free night here in Caceres, we decided to move on north to our next target which was one of the original destinations we had sketched in to our itinerary way back in Balgay Road last year. Today we would be driving up to Salamanca, most famous at home for the existence of the Scots College for priests, formerly based in Valladolid.

The day was cloudy but OK as we set about our hitching-up tasks. The lady next door, from welsh Wales, was keen to tell us it had remarkably been snowing in Madrid last night as a strip of low pressure raced through the high ground in the centre of Spain. We were unperturbed but the majority of Brits were apoplectic with indignant rage that a cloud should cover the sun they had been guaranteed when they booked their trips. After the arduous nights spent enduring the cold of an Italian winter, we were perhaps more resistant to the odd unsunny day.

The drive up north through the hills was pleasant enough with interesting scenery and a variety of birds to keep us awake, but big grins were the order of the day when we drove through a gap in the hills to discover snow lying not 50 metres above us to the right. We were quite surprised, given it was the last day in April, but I have a hunch the Spanish were even more so. We were reliably informed that such phenomena don’t happen very often in these parts. They blame it on global warming or some other scientific excuse for Mother Nature having a Hissy fit.

Anyway, we found our way to the campsite in a wee village called Santa Marta de Tormas just south-east of Salamanca and checked in at the neighbouring hotel which runs the complex. The parcelas were by no means luxurious but the facilities were well up to standard and the Internet was free. We set up opposite the toilet block and close to the travelling Caravan Club members who had gone on ahead of us to this site, having risen in a frenzy of activity at the crack of dawn in Caceres. Do these people ever have a long lie?

My efforts driving hundreds of kilometres day after day seem to be catching up on me recently and today my afternoon nap lasted about two and a half hours. I awoke with my head full of wool and it took a good 30 minutes for me to come back to the land of the living. When I went for a stroll to waken up I bumped into the guy with the Dutch wife we have met 3 times already in different places, originally on the next pitch to us in Cabopino which seems an eternity away.

We discussed the weather then where it was likely a football fan could see the return leg of the Champions’ League semi-final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. He directed me back to the hotel reception where I confirmed the game would be on at 21.45 our time so, after tea, both Mary and I went down to the hotel where I enjoyed a cracking good match and two or three tintos while Mary read her Kindle accompanied by a couple of huge Baileys. To us it was absolute luxury sitting in armchairs in a hotel lounge being served by a posh waiter.

Fatigue dictated that, after the game (well done, Dortmund!), we retired to the comfort of the Magic Caravan’s lovely big bed where I am writing this epistle. We feel good, we are warm, safe and well, and after another excellent night’s sleep, we’ll be up for a tour of Salamanca.

That’ll be the 43rd town we’ve visited, we think.

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Day 239: Caceres

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Today was divided clearly into two halves. Both were enjoyable but both were also quite different one from the other.

In the first half, we awoke to something we hadn’t heard in a long, long time: rain tapping gently on the roof of the Magic Caravan. It wasn’t the drumbeat of former downpours we have endured, especially last autumn in Belgium, but nonetheless it was real rain. The sky showed no sign of blue and had changed to a greyish-white cover with the odd dark splodge where we surmised the water was stored.

The change in the weather gave us a great excuse not to go visiting the town so we just had breakfast and settled down to our own little things, me pottering about and playing Mah-Jong on the laptop while Mary curled up with her Kindle. Every so often our attention would be seized by the distinctive sound of rain suddenly falling against the front windows of the caravan, but typically it couldn’t bring itself to turn into what we hardened Scots know as a dreich, rainy day, preferring to fade away before coming back suddenly for a few minutes then disappear again.

Even as lunchtime came and went there was little sign of a break in the clouds, leaving everyone on the campsite in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. I was beginning to feel a tad twitchy with cabin fever and kept jumping up to go and do……. just about anything I could think of, quickly running out of inspiration and returning to my seat. But when I discovered we’d run out of margarine the penny dropped. The supermarket! Our salvation!

Unusually warm and weatherproof clothing was donned by both of us and I even put the umbrella in the back seat of the Audi before we drove off towards the town. When we got there I simply followed the signs to a big Carrefour situated on the southern edge of Caceres and in we went to have a bit of a wander. However, for once our shopping expedition did not turn into the fun it normally does. In fact it was a bit of a nightmare!

We bought loads of stuff we probably didn’t really want or need, like mint chocolate-flavoured tea. We simply couldn’t find fresh semi-skimmed milk although there were gallons of the full-fat variety. We totally forgot to buy the margarine, the one thing we were out of. And at the checkout, not only did our Travelex card not have enough on it to cover the total cost, but we had chosen a self-scan point and it went wonky halfway through, necessitating the grumpy assistant having to rescan all our items. See what I mean by nightmare?

Upon leaving the supermarket car park, the sun suddenly burst through the clouds, prompting me to swing round and follow signs to “Ciudad Monumental” which I had read on a brochure was the old part of Caceres where all the historical stuff could be found. What we discovered after parking in a convenient side street was a gem of a town, full of old walls, arches, towers, churches, palaces and quarters from a bygone age, all surprisingly well-preserved and tastefully presented to the inquisitive traveller.

The 2 Towers

The 2 Towers

The walls and arch

The walls and arch

So the second half of the day was a pure delight as we did what we like best, wandering through historic streets, visiting churches and castles and examining the contents of little museums. A particular highlight however was the opportunity to see those local black storks up close from the top of one of the towers in the old cathedral. As you will see from the photo, at one point we were only about 10 metres away from a mother standing at her nest with what may have been a chick snuggled up inside. That’s the kind of moment we really like – unexpected and dramatic.

Yes, we were that close!

Yes, we were that close!

Esmerelda!

Esmerelda!

Mary made tea tonight and then we passed the evening reorganizing our cupboards and getting rid of another ton of stuff we brought with us but have never used at any point. We were quite pleased with our efforts and hopefully life will be that little bit more convenient in the confines of our Magic Caravan.

Tomorrow we drive to Salamanca, the great university town of Spain. It should be roasting with all the degrees!

See, no shorts or t-shirt today

See, no shorts or t-shirt today

 

Day 238: Staying Put

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From early on today, the folk with the Caravan Club Rally were deep in discussion with the organizer about what they were going to do. It seemed that all was not well and that their itinerary was going to be changed. But it was a delightful surprise when one of them came knocking, specifically to tell us they had remembered we were going to Salamanca too and that we should consider staying put as the forecast for the next couple of days up there was cold with rain and a touch of snow!

Now it was cold enough here already to put the question mark in our heads anyway. Don’t get me wrong, the sun was still blazing down but the heat that comes with it was being dissipated completely by an icy gale blowing in from the north i.e. from Salamanca way. Outside the Magic Caravan Mary and I were back into clothing we had eschewed several weeks ago, including socks, jerseys and in my case underpants again! However I was crafty enough to move the Audi around to an east-west position thereby creating a neat windbreak which was enhanced further by opening the rear door and positioning my chair in the gap. So I still managed a couple of hours sunbathing.

All things considered, if Salamanca was going to be 10-13 degrees cooler than Caceres, then staying here an extra couple of days seemed fine, especially as they do a 4 for 3 deal as well. The Caravan Club clearly thought so and they all quietly disappeared back into their caravans and motor homes. Lady Burton and myself settled down to doing odd jobs in the caravan and on the Internet. By the way I was able to renew my monthly contract with Orange España this morning just by sending them an SMS with “Bono Mensuel” in it. Two minutes later I received confirmation that we had another 30 days of Internet Everywhere.

Who can tell the difference between a stork and a crane? I know, a stork can’t lift a ton of solid concrete! But seriously (or not), the brochures tell us this place is jumping with storks while the internet says that the common bird of the area is the crane. They both look like herons to me, but as you know, George will not be getting close enough to ascertain any details about their plumage – or their beaks! I’m sure these birds all know that I once hit a heron with a wayward 5 iron at Kirriemuir Golf Course and they’ve sworn to get revenge ever since.

There is no sign of the famous Iberian Lynx either. OK, so they’re an endangered species and there are probably only about two of them left (let’s hope one of each!) but you’d think they could put in an appearance when they know Mary and I are passing through on our adventure. It’s not every day that two mad Scots trail a wee caravan through the wilds of Spanish Spain so I feel the Lynx should make an effort to at least say Hola!

I now need to say a special word of thanks to Paul Barnett for giving me an application to download which, with a decent Internet connection, allows you to watch live UK TV on the laptop. We tried it out last night and stumbled upon a series called “Endeavour” which Mary informed me must be about Inspector Morse when he was Constable Morse whose first name interestingly was Endeavour. As usual the Western Hemisphere’s best-read girl was spot on and we enjoyed a two-hour murder solved by the young prodigé.

And after it I was able to watch MOTD2 for the first time in ages. Brilliant!

Day 237: Up, up and away

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It’s a strange thing to have to take big decisions while you’re eating your breakfast. The first meal of the day should be a time for letting the wool fall off your eyes and slowly coming back from the Sandman’s house to your own house. That’s probably why Corn Flakes crunch: hundreds of little, sharp noises designed to bring you out of reverie and into the land of the real. Pity though!

As my Frosties crunched and Mary’s yoghurt slipped quietly by, we approached the crossroads in our minds and knew we had to decide whether to go right or straight on. The former would swing us east beyond Seville and over to Cordoba, highly recommended by lots of you, while straight on north would put us on the road to Salamanca, equally highly recommended. This was a two-pipe problem, but as neither of us smokes a pipe, it became a two-cup-of-tea problem.

Without actually saying it, we came to a decision, hitched up, bid farewell to some new, short-lived acquaintances and waved “Hasta la Vista” to Dos Hermanas, the 2 sisters I had always wanted. The first twenty minutes were a stop-start effort getting round the side of Seville but then the motorway opened up and headed north-east. About 10 kilometres further on, that crossroads loomed ahead and the steering wheel twitched. Were we sure? It got closer. Was it the best decision? Do it!

We drove straight on!

Decided!

Decided!

Now we could relax in our heads. We were going directly north towards Salamanca and missing out a visit to Cordoba. Some of you will no doubt say we will rue that particular decision but there, it was done, and the Audi began pulling us and the Magic Caravan into the higher lands of Extremadura. Indeed it was a bit of an uphill climb (for 250 kilometres!), necessitating a lot more gear-changing than normal and long enough for us to stop for lunch genuinely in the middle of nowhere.

We took the plain!

We took the plain!

Did you know that there is a really nice café-restaurant just on the edge of the middle of nowhere? We had lunch there, me chicken wings and Lady Burton some of the local cheese tapas. Then back on the road we drove, admiring the wilderness on either side but marvelling at the increase in wildlife in close proximity to the highway. First it was a black stork which flew directly across our path not 20 metres away then a huge brown bird of prey took to the sky on my side just as I glanced over. Mary spotted three storks sitting proudly on giant nests off to our right and I pointed out eagle after eagle gliding around on thermals above us. Wonderful!

Our journey’s end today was the town of Caceres, approximately halfway between Seville and Salamanca. It’s not a town we’ve ever heard of but it appears to have a lot of interesting history. More importantly for us, it boasts one of the best campsites in Spain, a wee gem of a place with, believe it or not (and we didn’t) a private toilet and shower for every pitch. No kidding, there is an outhouse on every pitch for which you are given a key and inside there is a fully-fitted bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. Amazing, and still only 16 Euro per night!

Luxury!

Luxury!

After settling in, Mary did her usual tidy up on arrival thing while I had a well-deserved kip. When I awoke I went for an explore and found………. yes, you’ve guessed it, a football game on the TV in the bar! So I watched Athletico Madrid v Barcelona over a couple of beers then did some Facetime with Gavin to get the details of Kelso’s latest victory in their recent revival. He informed me as well that he has his new car, a 1600 cc diesel Ka Ceed, so let’s all say a prayer tonight that this one actually goes!

Late evening was spent discussing the merits or otherwise of visiting Madrid with the caravan or on the train or not at all but leaving it for a future weekend break. As usual we came to no decision but you’ve come to expect that, haven’t you? By the way it was really quite cold here by ten o’clock, especially once the wind got up a bit, so there was no-one sat outside with a glass of wine on this site, even the Caravan Club rally members whom we appear to have followed from Dos Hermanas.

And the forecast’s not great either!

Day 236: A Seville tongue in our heads

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Back to business this morning we were (there’s that Yoda talk again!) with ablutions and breakfast quickly covered before we took a brisk morning walk over to the bus stop for Seville. Thanks to the pace of life here in Spain, we caught the one we thought we were too late for, so found ourselves in the heart of the city by the back of ten. On our way in from Dos Hermanas we were struck by the classic Spanish architecture of the increasingly sumptuous buildings on both sides of the avenue and hoped that would be a taster of things to come. It was!

Government building

Government building

Lovely architecture

Lovely architecture

Looking at the map, we decided on a circular tour of the city so firstly strolled west along wide avenues until we found the Cathedral which was clearly the centre of attraction given the long queue snaking into the ticket office. We joined the other patient visitors and were delighted when, like the queue at Sagrada Familia in February, it moved forward quite quickly allowing us to get our tickets and in within about 20 minutes. It was a pleasant wait actually, with horse-drawn carriages coming and going every few seconds, touts handing out flyers from segways (Google it if you don’t already know) and warm sun shining down out of a blue sky. It was a pity about the gypsy women selling their “lucky” white heather – to a Scotsman as well!

Luxury travel

Luxury travel

Cathedral facade

Cathedral facade

Seville cathedral is just by the way the largest gothic cathedral on the planet and it took as a good 2 hours to get round its amazing chapels, its orange tree courtyard and its main attraction, the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It also had several sacristies and ante-rooms elaborately decorated with all sorts of treasures and religious icons including the usual array of Saints’ fingernails, locks of hair and small bones from hands and feet. Lovely!

Columbus blurred!

Columbus blurred!

By the time we left the cathedral, it was getting really busy inside, rather detracting from our enjoyment of this wonderful edifice. Chancing upon an interesting tapas bar down one of the side streets, we settled down for lunch and once again enjoyed a real bargain of 3 courses, bread, a beer and coffee for 7 Euro each! Admittedly the courses were all tapas size but they were delicious and quite adequate for the midday meal.

Refreshed we made for the river to the south, heading down past a circular structure on the map which we took to be a coliseum type ruin. But no! It was of course the Seville bullring. However, having recently visited a similar venue in Ronda, we gave this one a miss and settled for a delightful walk along the riverside back to the east of the town. By now it was beginning to get a bit warm and, having opted for long trousers and socks for a town visit, I was starting to regret my choice of attire. Out of habit we recorded the official temperature at a crossing.

Olé!

Olé!

See, I told you!

See, I told you!

The Parque de Maria Luisa was our objective and once again we were not disappointed by a quiet tree-filled park laid out a bit like Fontainebleau or Schonbrunn in Vienna. However, talk about keeping the best for last, the park led us directly into the Playa España, a huge semi-circular area of fountains and cobblestones with the most amazing curve of pink buildings protecting its north side. Hopefully our photos will do this square justice as it has to be up there with the best we’ve seen on our adventure.

Breath-taking

Breath-taking

The playa even had a Venice-style canal which traced its curve from east to west and when we discovered there were rowing boats for hire, well, it was an opportunity not to be missed and off we rowed, Lady Burton in her element while yours truly exhausted himself rowing back and forth in blazing sunshine and temperature in the 30s. By the finish I was a right sweaty rower and had finished my third litre of thankfully refreshing water while Mary smiled broadly at having enjoyed another idyllic moment in a fairytale setting.

In a boat with a film star!

In a boat with a film star!

Another view

Another view

After a snack we deemed our visit at a close so went to find the bus stop which proved to be only a few metres from the square. In no time at all we were back in Dos Hermanas and the bus let us off quite near the campsite which was another bonus.

But the day wasn’t over yet. With the help of the Internet and Victoria, we got ourselves to an Orange shop where we recharged our Internet account for the forthcoming month despite an assistant who tried hard to please but spoke awfully, awfully fast Spanish making our heads spin. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay online for the next 30 days. If not, I’ve probably bought a Spanish gerbil or something as I really couldn’t follow some of what she was saying!

Tea tonight was followed by a drink down at the bar and a chance to use the fast, free Internet to Facetime with George and catch up on the latest news from his family. I also managed to borrow a guy’s guitar and entertain the assembly with a couple of tunes, thereby reminding myself that I used to play a bit.

Today was fun, you know.

Fat guy at lamp-post

Fat guy at lamp-post

Day 235: Up a bit

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Something was up with me when I woke up this morning. I appeared to have lost the desire to move on and keep travelling as we have been doing every 3 or 4 days. Maybe it had just caught up with me after a day’s tourism in Cadiz yesterday, but I dragged my heels for the first hour and even for a brief moment considered heading back to Barcelona. I suppose it could also have been the idea of finally leaving the beaches of the south and heading off inland into country we really know absolutely nothing about.

No, we kid you not. For the first time ever there was a serious question in our heads as to whether we should continue or not. A shower, a shave (just me!), a bowl of Frosties, a nice cup of tea and we climbed out of this strange doubt and got back to what we do best. Hitching up took 30 minutes and that was us on the road again. I pointed the Audi away from the coast, took a deep breath and pressed the accelerator. The a/c was already on full blast and it seemed we could be in for a rather warm journey.

The heat however turned out not to be the problem but its near neighbour in these parts, the wind. The Magic Caravan was given a real battering from vicious gusts blasting across the flat plain north of Cadiz and I was obliged to keep my speed below 50 mph the whole way just to ensure I was always in control. En route we were delighted however to see that the famous Spanish bull was on the horizon keeping a watchful eye on us!

A lot of Bull!

Victoria took us unerringly up to Dos Hermanas, 10 kilometres south of our target for tomorrow’s visit, Seville. This is the first campsite we’ve been on since Italy where we can’t use our out-of-season reduction Acsi card with a maximum of 16 Euro per night. Here it’s 25 Euro but the site is nice and there’s even a Caravan Club rally here at the moment. There’s also a rally from Holland and a group booking by vintage Citroen owners of France which includes a couple of 2CVs, a Dyane and a camionette resplendent with its Boucherie/Charcuterie paintwork. Tasty!

Once we had a timetable for the bus to Seville we decided to play safe and go and find the bus stop. We found it 10 minutes away across a couple of busy roads but what surprised us at five thirty in the evening was the ferocity of the sun which threatened to burn holes in the tops of our heads, clearly mine being the first to succumb! So we didn’t dilly-dally on the way but I had enough time to get the proof I needed.

Sizzling!

Back at the caravan we were again surprised to get a visit from our 2 Geordie friends, Tom and Lorraine, who had noticed that we had followed them inadvertently to the next site. They have an itinerary quite similar to ours so we might even meet them for a third time. Naturally I spoke to them in English, but as the evening wore on I had an opportunity to speak French, German and Spanish while I had to resort to English to talk to our neighbour from Greece and of course all the Dutch who are here in their dozens.

Here’s the football bit! Kabel Eins provided me with live coverage of the Europa League semi-final between FC Basel and Chelsea London (as they say over here). It wasn’t a great game but once again Mary and I had 90 minutes of German commentary to improve our ability in that tongue. It’s a brilliant way to learn, believe me!

Tomorrow we hit Seville. The future’s definitely orange!

Day 234: Cadiz

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We slept really well last night, despite warnings about loud noises coming from the harbour area where heavy machinery are dumping thousands of gigantic rocks into the sea to make a new breakwater. We heard a bit but it didn’t disturb our sleep in the Magic Caravan’s bed which, as we have said many times before, is probably the comfiest bed either of us has ever slept in. Only Mr. Bladder has any chance of getting me out of that bed before I absolutely want to!

After breakfast, and despite soaring temperatures, we plumped today for the original plan which was to take the ferry over to Cadiz sticking out into the Atlantic on its narrow peninsula. I asked my new Geordie neighbour, Tom, for directions to the ferry, knowing that he and his wife had made the selfsame trip yesterday.

The first laugh of the day came via the arrival of an English couple as we were chatting to Tom and his missus. While I swopped tales of drinking in Byker with Scott and Claire Gibson, Mary got in the chat with the other woman. We quickly surmised that she had only come over to tell us how wonderful she was, having picked up on her 5 year-old grandson who could say Hola! (quote: “that’s Spanish for Hello!”) and her mentioning Herez (which you probably know as “Gerez!”) and Cartahena “which you probably call “Carthajena!”). I could see Mary was ready to punch her lights out so diplomatically spirited her away on the pretext that we didn’t want to be late for the boat.

First view of Cadiz from the ferry

First view of Cadiz from the ferry

Although the ticket-office was a good kilometre and more away, we opted for Shanks’ pony to make sure we got in our daily exercise and walked round to the port for the 11.30 boat. As we left the harbour my eyes were drawn not only to Cadiz lying straight ahead in the distance but also to a clear line in the water where green met blue. It was similar to the confluence of the two rivers at Deutsche Eck in Koblenz all those travels ago, but the definition of the two colours was stark and unmissable. I estimated that the water from the harbour, brought in via a river, was meeting up with the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean and creating this phenomenal sight.

The meeting of the waters

The meeting of the waters

In 20 minutes we were over in Cadiz with 4 hours to spend seeing what the town had to offer. I won’t bore you with our nerdy visits to old Cadiz, its 2 cathedrals, its town-hall, its magnificent port and its old town. But you may be interested in our lunch which we took in the main square, having failed to find the place Gillian Barnett had recommended. This was a neat little restaurant offering a 3-course plus wine and bread for 10 Euros. Although we had salad and tinned sardines in the backpack, we gave in and splashed out on crass luxury again. As you might expect for the price, the food was quite basic but we both enjoyed what we chose, including my first go at seafood paella, octopus and all!

We found ourselves seeking the shade at every opportunity as it began to get really hot round about 13.30 so we ended up in the cathedral museum which surprised us pleasantly with its structure and the quality of its exhibits. In fact it got so hot that we decided walking was no longer a good idea so headed back to the port and took the ferry home. I cannot describe for you the journey back as we both fell fast asleep and missed it. I of course can blame old age! But Mary, well that’s her generation for you! No stamina!

The beach opposite the campsite

The beach opposite the campsite

Later on I did some shopping at the local Mercadona and then rustled up a rather cheeky chicken stir-fry, after which Mary crept quietly into her Kindle and I, thanks to German channel ZDF, was able to watch uninterrupted coverage of Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid, almost a repeat of last night as the Spanish took a siesta and Deutschland was simply über alles! I wonder what Bet 365 are offering on an all-Spanish Classico final now? Probably about 100-1.

I lost another pair of glasses today, the fourth pair I’ve lost or broken since our adventure began. I brought 5 pairs with me so I’m down to the last pair. I’ve resurrected the string that holds them round my neck so I don’t have to put them down when I’m finished using them for reading. I also stubbed my toe twice on uneven paving-stones in central Cadiz and nearly fell over. Add that to falling asleep on the boat, and I have to ask myself.

Am I getting old?

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