Friday Sept 13 Bacelona
Having booked entry to Sagrada Familia online ( highly recommended) we arrived at opening 9am to go inside this incredible building. If people are impressed by the outside then the inside is awe inspiring. Twisting and turning columns windows and structures inspired by shapes in nature giving a feeling of a forest. Great idea to arrive early as by 10 am the tour groups were swarming.
Next stop was an expedition to find Museu Picasso. Lots of alleys and plenty of shopping later we found this fabulous museum. Not before we stumbled upon Santa Maria del Mar, a Catalan Gothic church. Purchased some artwork and headed back to rest our feet before dinner.
Saturday Sept 14 (Barcelona)
Travelled to Valencia after collecting our Audi A4 ( large but automatic) hire car and visiting Montsarrat. We really enjoyed the Cremallera rack railway up the steep mountain only to find that there was another funicular railway to the pinnacle. The queue into the Basilica snaked for miles so we chose to explore the surrounds and views. An amazing place worth spending more time to walk some tracks.
A 3 hour drive and a toll bill of 38 euros, we arrived at Hotel Valencia Central in Valencia. After exploring the nearby L'hemispheric, L'oceanographic area, built as a monument to the river bed upon which it is located, we went to an amazing restaurant Ricard Camarena recommended to us by Lou-Anne and Ian. Degustation, six courses of amazing food meticulously prepared and presented on hand crafted plates and bowls with wine to complement.
Met a lovely Belgium couple at our long table who recommended Shunto - Japanese restaurant in Barcelona. The evening was warm so we strolled 20 minutes back to the hotel stopping to enjoy the sculptures on the way.
Sunday Sept 15 (Valencia)
Caught the local bus to the historic part of the city and walked through the amazing alleys viewing churches etc. Went in the Ceramics museum adorned with carvings in marble.
No shops open to tempt us. Bused back to hotel to collect bathers and off to the beach for a swim in the warm water, along with hundreds of others. Noticed the Spaniards like to converse loudly both at the beach and on the bus. Enjoyed a meal of goats cheese salad, grilled vegetables and calamari across road from hotel.
Monday Sept 16 (Valencia)
Searched for bike hire shop but not open so walked along riverbed in Valencia enjoying the gardens and local runners. Manoeuvred car out of car spot and began journey to Cartagena. GPS worked well! Travelled through tunnels and toll roads to arrive in the naval city of Cartagena. Our large car proved a challenge when we discovered the car parking at our hotel NH Cartagena required the car to be driven into a lift and lowered to the car park. Michael, with guidance of hotel staff was a champ but we decided to leave the car there for the two days and explore on foot. Explored the city centre of Cartagena not realising that the museums were closed on Mondays. Still took lots of photos, walked for hours and ended with a cold beer at a tavern before a meal in the town centre.
Tuesday Sept 17 (Cartagena)
Set off on foot to explore further afield, found an archaeological museum with Roman excavation - amazing that these structures are over 2000 years old. Then went to the District of the Roman Forum to view a thermal baths complex built in 1st century AD. Then revisited the Roman Theatre museum and walked through the semi restored amphitheatre built in late 1st century BC. We then walked to the top of the city hill to Concepcion Castle which was built in the 13th century.
Discovered we could have taken the panoramic lift up 45 metres to save the hot sticky walk!! Breathtaking views of harbour and city were our reward for the walk. Wine on our hotel room balcony before dinner. Noticed how beautiful the babies are in Spain with their olive skin.
Wednesday Sept 18 (Cartagena)
Negotiated the car lift (after lift closed on car before we had managed to drive more than the front bumper in). Filled car with diesel, still driveway service here! Drove to Vera and spent time at their beautiful beach with 7 miles of blackish sand. Swam in the warm water and enjoyed the sun before heading off to Granada. Trip was scenic travelling through wind farms, paddocks of solar energy panels, tunnels through mountains, and barren, rocky mountainous landscape.
Arrived safely at Vincci Albayzin Hotel and the hotel provided a driver to park the car which only required negotiating a narrow side street. Explored city before enjoying 6 tapas and a glass of wine for 12 euros. Such warm evenings we eat outside each evening.
Thursday Sept 19 (Granada)
Off to the city of the Alhambra today. Had to wait for the bus to collect us, actually wondering if bus will actually arrive? Once we arrived, we were sorted into language groups and given a small radio receiver with earpiece so we could all hear the guide.
The Alhambra with its royal palaces was on a beautiful site with extensive gardens known as Generalife Gardens - gardens originally designed by an Arab architect but more recently replanted. Buildings dating back to 1300s when the Catholic King and Queen won control from the Muslims; some buildings were designated for the military, many aspects of the palaces were ruined by the French in 1812. The outside of the palaces was very plain but the inside was elaborately carved with Arabic designs, the ceilings being the most intricate and carved or mosaic from timber. Wonderful views of Grenada were visible from various parts of The Alhambra.
After our tour we wandered back down to the city centre and spent the afternoon exploring the narrow, winding, steep streets of the Albayzin area.
We returned to the hotel to rest our feet before dinner. A quick spot of shopping and a 8.75 euro meal and drink successfully completed a very full day.
Friday Sept 20 (Granada)
A quiet day today wandering through the streets of Albayzin and visiting St Nicolas church with its expansive view of the Alhambra. Walking was pleasant in the morning temperature. On our walk back into the city we visited The Palacio de La Madraza which is now part of the University of Granada. Its entrance is opposite that of the Capilla Real (cathedral). The Moorish mihrab has been restored and similar to The Alhambra. Gypsies congregated outside offering tourists rosemary to demand money. Returned to hotel for a rest during Siesta time as everything closed. Searched Trip Advisor and booked a Flamenco performance at Casa del Arte Flamenco @ 11 Cuesta de Gomerez, Granada.
Enjoyed tapas and sangria near performance venue. Flamenco venue had 55 little wooden chairs (five rows) one metre from the stage which was only 2.5x5 metres. A fabulous performance so close to the dancers - their feet moved so fast.
Wandered back to hotel only to find ourselves in the midst of a religious procession right past the hotel. We stayed and watched along with thousands of others as two bands and religious floats passed by. A late evening once again.
Saturday Sept 21 (Granada)
Early departure for Maro beach. Once again roads were wide and relatively flat as bridges spanned the ravines and tunnels ploughed through the hillsides, imagine the cost of construction!
La Cala de Maro beach known as one of the best in Spain called us down a windy narrow road in amongst farming grounds. One euro to park on side of road but saved a steep 2 km walk back to car park. Water was very clear and cool but not cold like home. Had a couple of quick swims before heading on our way to Ronda.
The 30 km windy road to Ronda, set upon the Tajo gorge, was well worth the one hour drive. Amazing views all the way and a quaint city to greet us on our arrival. We saw the oldest bullring in Spain but chose not to go in. Walked along to see the old Roman bridge which spans the deep gorge.
Strolled through the old city stopping to purchase a couple of locally made handbags on the way. This is a place worth stopping over on the next visit to Spain. At 6pm we thought we should leave and venture to our accommodation at Fuerte Miramar in Marbella. A room with a view and seaside balcony awaited us so after working out how to securely park the car in the hotel car park and negotiate the lift we took a walk in the local area and purchased some produce for dinner on our deck! A lovely evening by the sea.
Sunday Sept 22 (Marbella)
Started day with a walk along the beach La Bajadilla in front of hotel. Took towels ready for a early swim before our drive to Gibraltar and Seville. Sand consisted of gritty shells so quite dark in appearance and clung to the skin.
Returned to hotel via the lovely swimming pool surrounded by deck chairs, loaded the car and set off for Gibraltar.
Today's tolls 4.95 + 3.20+ 7.15 so not such an expensive trip. The journey south once again included many tunnels and bridges spanning gorges that kept the 4 lane highway straight. We filled car up for second time today, diesel cost 59.70.
Gibraltar's imposing rock was an impressive sight.
We left the car on the Spanish side of the border, walked through the checkpoint into the British overseas territory and across the airstrip. A dark cloud loomed over the brow of the rock making the temperature much cooler than just a few hundred metres away in Spain. Unfortunately it was Sunday so no shops open! We had a drink at the Lord Nelson bar before returning to the car to continue our journey to Seville. The landscape is quite different to the east side of Spain, open fields rather than mountains and ravines.
In 2 hours we were at Seville once again searching for the hotel and then somewhere to park the car so we could check in. After a short detour through the town in search of hotel we checked in and parked the car beneath the hotel. Explored the old city and found a great place for Sangria and tapas. It was extremely hot and humid (almost tempted to buy a fan) even at 8:30pm.
Monday Sept 23 (Seville)
Started day with a free walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was fabulous both entertaining and knowledgeable. He studied Arts in Seville then, with a group of friends, decided to set up a business "Feel the city tours". Idea is that the first tour is free and then you book other tours. We were so impressed we paid the cost of the next tour 20euros as a tip. We walked to all the main attractions and heard great historical accounts at each location. The tour included the Alcazar, the old palace built in 912AD where even today the king Juan Carlos stays. Noted the avenue of buildings in a new kind of architecture for Spain with mixed elements using brick and tile mix of historical styles. Saw the Cathedral de Sevilla (need to see the Giralda tomorrow) built 1000 AD but in 1401 an earthquake meant much had to be rebuilt but the Tower withstood the earthquakes, interesting stories as to why. Saw the City Hall donated by the king at the time, built in the the late reconnaissance style. Walked past the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (bullfighting ring). Toured through a section of the Royal Tobacco factory which is now part of the university (cigarettes are very cheap here still - no tax). The title character of Bizet's opera Carmen is a cigarrera at this factory. Best of all we spent time at the amazing Plaza d'Espana which is a half circle of buildings 'built like a hug for the city' the architect included many symbols of Spain and a blend of architectural styles.
The tour took 31/2 hours so after taking further time to explore the Plaza d'Espana we had a cool drink (38 degrees today) and took the Hop on off bus to explore further afield - very hot outside. Left bus early to find a yoghurt ice cream- shops everywhere here a very popular snack in Spain. Dinner at Boca a Boca started with two large sangrias and finished with 3 tasty tapas including melon and garlic soup.
Tuesday Sept 24 (Seville)
Set off early to visit the cathedral, lucky enough to view a mass on progress but tower did not open until 11am so visited the Alcazar, the royal palace. What a treat, this palace has walls and rooms decorated with great similarity to the Alhambra in Granada. The gardens are expansive with hand clipped hedges a feature.
We queued to enter the Cathedral and climbed the 35 ramps of the Giralda- along with hundreds of others. We had a fabulous view of the city from the top plus a close up of the tower bells. Once again gypsies were outside the cathedral offering herbs.
We walked through the city to the river's (canal as had to redirect river due to flooding) edge to catch the Hop on Off bus to rest out feet and ensure we had value for money.
Ventured back to hotel for a rest before wandering the shops and having Sangria ( 1/2L) and tapas for dinner. Spinach and chickpea tapa was amazing. Purchased some ceramic gifts made in Sevilla from a ceramics shop in Seville. The lady was so lovely to us, individually wrapping each piece with bubble wrap and gift wrap.
Wednesday Sept 25 (Seville)
Time to leave Sevilla and make our way to Salamanca. Really wanted to go to Cordoba on the way but that would mean at least 61/2 hours drive as well as sight seeing.
Decided to take a break at Merida which turned out to have preserved more important ancient Roman monuments than any other city in Spain and is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
After negotiating a carpark and having a coffee at a corner cafe we stumbled upon the Roman Provincial Forum which is an archaeological area built on 1 century AD and walked through the Arch of Trajan without realising at first. As we drove out of the city we noticed what we now know is the Miraculous Aqueduct which was part of the aqueduct built to supply water to the Roman colony. There are 38 arched pillars still standing 25 metres high over a course of 800 metres. It was constructed in the 1 st century AD, an amazing sight. We felt satisfied with this gem as we knew we were missing Cordoba.
Another 21/2 hours drive and we were at the incredible Salamanca. This is such a peaceful, clean and beautiful historic site. Our hotel is amazing, Palacios de San Esteban. It seems to be an old palace with wonderful stone buildings and gardens. We have to go up one floor in a lift then walk along a corridor to go up 2 more floors in another part of the complex. View from hotel window is of a nearby church and courtyard garden- stunning.
We walked up to the Plaza Mayor and had a Sangria admiring the largest plaza in Spain an incredibly large square surrounded by three storey buildings. The local university students and the tourists gather here in the evenings. We enjoyed a meal just outside the Plaza, 11euros each for 3 courses and a wine!
Thursday Sept 26 (Salamanca)
Set off early to visit both cathedrals.
We paid to explore the medieval cathedral towers which are 110 metres tall, looming over the city. The stairwells were narrow but Christine managed to go most of the way. Once again views were fabulous and we were in awe of the construction over 12th to 15th centuries. The new cathedral which is alongside the old was built during 16th to 18th century. We were able to walk along the inside platform overlooking the new cathedral and see the cathedral from this amazing vantage point. Walked past the Casa de las conchas a building adorned with conch shells made from clay, this building is now the local library.
Wandered back to Plaza Mayor for coffee and custard pastry before making some purchase in a dress shop called Milka and learning some Spanish from the assistants. Enjoyed a meal just outside the Plaza Mayor. Michael discovered the sauna at the hotel so had a late night steam!
Friday Sept 27 (Madrid)
Left beautiful Salamanca for Madrid and arrived into the city without event (although the GPS decided there was no signal about 2km from the centre of Madrid!). Parked car in a tight position in tiny hotel garage once again, (must ensure a smaller car next time). Staying at hotel Gran Versalles which is within walking distance (a healthy walk) of all attractions. Set off to see the Royal Palace (Palacio Real - with it's amazingly decorated rooms, our favourite being the room where the walls were covered in ceramics but all the artwork on the ceilings was incredible), Royal Opera House (Teatro Real) and Plaza Mayor (similar but not as spectacular or clean as Salamanca's). Lots of shops but not much success today. Enjoyed a drink at the buzzing Mercado de San Miguel (a gastronomic destination) and we plan to return. Enjoyed tapas and sangria at Calle de la Montera just up from Puerta del Sol amidst the throngs of people. It is amazing how everyone comes to the city streets in the evenings.
Saturday Sept 28 (Madrid)
Well today was our first cool day since arriving two weeks ago. Max of 20 with showers for Madrid. We set off on our own planned walking tour devised last night from tourist information, only forgot one item, the raincoats!
We strolled through the Salamanca area first checking out boutiques with no success. Stopped for coffee and fresh orange juice and pastries before venturing to Parque de el Retiro with its beautiful gardens and even a large lake where you could hire a dingy for a relaxing row! The skies opened whilst we were in the park so our stride hastened as we walked past the avenue of book stalls selling second hand books. We sheltered in shop alcoves and finally in an art museum not without having a muddy puddle experience. The showers disappeared and we were on our way exploring the city. We headed back to Mercado de San Miguel where we enjoyed a couple of quiet wines and gourmet food with the thronging masses. This is a place not to be missed - it is just near Plaza Mayor. We wandered the city exploring shops, through the incredibly busy Puerta del Sol and side streets before returning to our hotel for a restful evening out of the rain.
Sunday Sept 29 (Zaragoza)
Left Madrid safely after negotiating the narrow garage entrance. Learnt that hot chocolate in Spain is a thick slurry of Nesquik and milk, tastes a bit like thick sweet soup, not recommended.
Had a quick stop at Calatayud which was a pleasant place to have a pastry with the locals.
Made quick time to Zaragoza with some difficulty with GPS on arrival as streets have been redirected and our kind lady was confused and we were stressed and frustrated. Our reward was the fabulous Hotel Alfonso right in the centre of the action- the 'lady' asked us to turn right into a plaza dedicated to trams but fortunately we had found a park and decided to walk to locate the hotel.
After a walk through the plaza to view the cathedrals (most beautiful and with a mass in progress so organ music was delightful) the old roman wall and bridge, we returned to the hotel for a swim in the magnificent indoor pool- all to ourselves for at least 30 minutes!
The hotel has been done out in a modern style with interesting furniture and fittings, this is a great place. Enjoyed a buffet style dinner tonight as this was a great way to try all the Spanish food we did not know about on menus written in Spanish.
Michael managed to change my travel card money to Euros so now we have 332.74euros on Michael's card and 1107.10euros on mine. Won't take long to spend that in the next 24 hours before we leave.
Monday Sept 30 (Barcelona)
Left Zaragoza after negotiating the exit signs, would seem salida in green was pedestrians and blue for cars- went the pedestrian way first. All went well until we arrived into Barcelona where the traffic was bumper to bumper and 3 lanes wide our friendly lady did not give us forward warning sufficient to change lanes easily and at crucial moments she would lose the GPS signal. We finally found the Europ Car place and left the car with great relief.
We quickly located our clean and pleasant hotel just along the street before venturing back to the alleyways to find the recycling product shops to purchase some gifts. Enjoyed a meal in Passeig de Gracia near QuQu for dinner and met Michael's work colleague Chris for a drink before returning to hotel to pack the bags for our flight home. Once again enjoyed a warm evening outside- going to miss that. Amazing the number of people shopping at 8pm on a Monday evening.