Oban, and the Isle of Iona, Scotland

 

IMG_9462May 30 – June 1, 2017: Oban, Isle of Iona

Our original plan was to drive from Nairn to Inverness, and then south down the west side of Loch Ness to Oban, with a brief photo stop at Urquhart Castle, and a longer visit to Glencoe Information centre along the way.  However, we noticed an alternate route straight south from Nairn, through the Cairngorms National Park where there was a popular (and free) Highland Folk Museum. We hemmed and hawed about which route to take but eventually decided on the latter.

Since we weren’t planning to actually pay to look inside the ruins of Urquhart Castle (we’ve seen a lot of castles already), and we happen to live on a lake very similar to Loch Ness (with its own mythical monster, Ogopogo), we decided we would prefer to drive through the beautiful Cairngorms and spend a few hours visiting the Folk Museum instead, and we were happy we did.

As per usual, we didn’t rush our morning, and weren’t on the road until at least 10ish.  We drove through beautiful countryside, first on narrow country roads, and then later on A95 and A9, until we reached the town of Aviemore where we managed to track down a set of standing stones, in the midst of a subdivision.

Thirty minutes further down the road, we reached Newtonmore, and the Highland Folk Museum.  We made a donation, bought a guidebook, and wandered in and out of the many historical buildings in the mile-long open air museum, with its 1700’s village of five thatch homes on one end, and an early 1900’s farming village on the other. We spent at least three hours wandering around, had lunch at the cafe on site, and we even managed to finally get some photos of Heilin’ Coos (the adorable long-haired Highland Cows)!  It was definitely a worthwhile stop, especially if you have kids.

We continued our drive down the A9 for another hour and a half, before turning east along A82 after crossing the bridge near North Ballachulish, and finally reached the information site at Glencoe and Dalness. Once again, the site was part of our NTS pass, so we didn’t have to pay for access.

The museum was a mix of geological information about the formation of Glen Coe and the other surrounding mountains, climbing (which reminded me of Angie), and of course, of the famous Glencoe Massacre where 38 members of the MacDonald clan were murdered in their beds by British Soldiers in 1692 because their chieftain was a few days late swearing fealty to the British monarch.  It was yet another tragedy in Highland history.

Out back of the museum was a gorgeous view of the mountain and the valleys which are also famous as a back drop to movies such as Rob Roy, Braveheart, Skyfall, and Outlander. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day so we couldn’t get really great photos.

There is another museum (Glencoe Folk Museum) dedicated to the Glencoe Massacre in the town of Glencoe, but it was already closed for the day by the time we were there.

Finally on our way once again, it was only another half hour or so before we reached the coastal village of Oban, whose ferry terminal is the gateway to the Inner Hebrides, and where we would be staying for two nights. We checked into our B&B, and went for supper at a restaurant down on the pier. It had been a long, busy day and we were tired.

In the morning, we were up early, had breakfast at the B&B, and then packed a small daypack and headed down to the ferry terminal where we had booked a day trip to Mull and Iona Islands on West Coast Tours bus line.  The company has a number of tours but the one we chose was £35 each, and included a 45 minute ferry to Mull Island, a bus ride with live commentary across Mull, a foot passenger ferry ride to Iona Island for a 2 1/2 hour wander around the small village, Abbey, and shops, and then return the same way we came.  We left at 9:50am and returned by 6pm.

The commentary on the bus was excellent – super informative, and very funny – and Sheila, our driver, was amazing at how she managed to eek the bus around the crazy narrows roads.  Erik particularly enjoyed the trip because he didn’t have to drive!

We liked Mull and thought we could easily spend a few days on the island, and tiny Iona itself was idyllic. The water was a gorgeous teal blue, the sand leaned towards white, and as there were no cars, it was relatively quiet and peaceful. Well, it would have been if there hadn’t been 500 tourists wandering around.  At any rate, we managed to find our own quiet spots and enjoyed taking photos of the landscape, beaches, as well as the ruins of the Nunnery and the Abbey.

We ate our lunch on a bench in the sun (did I mention it was a glorious sunny day?!!), and Erik bought me some beautiful silver Celtic tree of life earrings that I had been perhaps not-so-secretly coveting. We had dinner in town when we returned to Oban, and then relaxed at our B&B for the evening. Overall, it was pretty much a perfect day!

Next up: Callander and Stirling, Scotland

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Oban
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Countryside
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Glencoe
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Rainy day
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Highland Folk Museum
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Highland Folk Museum
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Highland Folk Museum
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Heinlin’ Coos
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Aviemore Standing Stones
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Mull Island
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Iona Abbey
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Ferry in Oban
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Waiting for the ferry
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Isle of Iona
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Scottish Highlands

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We were lucky to have a gorgeous sunset on our first night in Nairn

May 25-30: Nairn, Scotland

We said our goodbyes to cousin Jim and his wife Lorna, and left Cupar around 10am, driving up into the highlands along quieter roads. Erik is getting very comfortable with driving on the left and we are learning the ropes for driving on the narrow roads with the frequent passing places.  We’ve learned that you pull over for oncoming traffic whenever you can, especially if they are bigger than you, and flash your lights so they know they can pass.

As we left the lowlands, the roads were pastoral, but soon we moved into more forested land, and then finally we climbed above the tree line where the surrounding landscape was stark and bare.  We stopped briefly at Glenshee where there is a ski hill with a handful of runs and several chair lifts and no doubt it is a going concern in the winter. The pretty Clunie River runs along the road, and we crossed it a few times before we began to descend down into the treed valleys once again.

It took us about three hours to reach the small town of Huntly, where we stopped for lunch, before driving another 10km to Forgue for a tour of the Glendronach distillery, my favourite scotch whisky. Glendronach is a relatively small operation which still uses traditional methods to make their whisky, but it’s not particularly well known (for reasons I cannot fathom), and I rarely find it served in restaurants.  I like it because it’s one of the few that use sherry casks (from Jerez in Spain which we visited a couple of weeks ago), and it has a soft sweetness to it. We were lucky to be alone on our tour and found it really interesting to see this amazingly complicated process. It was a little sad to learn that most of the 125 distilleries in Scotland have been bought out by multi-national companies.  This link has some good information if you want to know more about how whisky is made.

Finally, we were back on the road to Nairn where we checked in around 5:30pm. It had been a long day but the sun was shining and the temperature was in the high 20’s – absolutely stunning!  We had three days booked in the small town of Nairn, on the northern coast of the highlands, followed by two nights at a hotel in Inverness, 30 minutes further west, but once we arrived at our B&B, we decided to cancel our hotel and stay for five nights in Nairn.

The suite was roomy with a king size bed, a huge shower, a deck with table and umbrella, and a fridge full of food – we’ve never stayed in a place that left so much to eat! There was bread, butter, buns, cookies, eggs, bacon, sausages, a package of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, tea, coffee, milk, OJ, fruit – I could go on but I think you get the idea.  Since we could easily make a day trip in to Inverness, we decided hanging tough for five nights would be awesome.

In the evening, we walked 1/2 km down the road to the seawall and walked along the beach as the sun set.  Nairn sits on the edge of the Moray Firth, an inlet near Inverness which is well known for its dolphins. I kept my eyes peeled but never had any luck spotting any. However, the we had a gorgeous sunset at around 10pm, and I took a ton of pictures, then we came back and sat on our deck a little longer.  I don’t think the temperature dropped below 20C all night, although our room was cool with the windows open.

IMG_9172While in Nairn, we had four full days to check out the sights, and our first order of business was to visit the Culloden Battleground and Interpretive Centre which was about 25 minutes away.  It was covered by our NTS pass and we spent about an hour or so looking at the displays and learning about the history of the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart House) and his Jacobite followers.

Obviously the Jackobite Uprising of 1745 was a much more complex situation than I am willing to write about, but suffice to say, Prince Charles didn’t listen to his advisers and made some poor decisions that resulted in over 1500 Jacobites (Scottish, Irish, French, and some British men) killed in the final one-hour battle that took place on Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.

My maternal grandfather’s ancestors (Mackintosh, Urquhart, Cumming, and Munro) were living in the Culloden area at the time, and it’s possible that some of them (most likely the Mackintosh clan) were involved in the battle.

During our time in Nairn, we visited several local parish church graveyards and looked for old family graves but it’s very difficult to find gravestones with clear writing on them once you go as far back as the 1700’s.

One day, we visited Brodie castle which dated back to the 1600’s, and once again, our NTS passes gave us free access.  There was a very interesting guided tour and I think it was one of the best castle tours I’ve been on because so much of the original furniture, books, and decorations are still there.

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Sunday Carvery lunch at Golfview Hotel

On Sunday, we made reservations for the “Sunday Carvery Lunch” at the Golfview Hotel dining room down the road, and had a delicious two course dinner of melt-in-your-mouth roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes and vegetables. We shared the starter and the dessert – smoked salmon cream cheese roulade and raspberry bread pudding with cream and had a table by the window with a lovely view of the sea.  It was a perfect afternoon!

On our last full day, we took a peek at the exterior of Fort George, which is only 15 minutes away, and then drove into the larger city of Inverness. It was busy, but we managed to find an underground parking lot, and walked around for a while to check out some of the shops and then had lunch at the oldest pub in town.

We really enjoyed staying in one place for five nights and had lots of down time to read, write, and even play guitar! The fellow who owned the B&B happened to collect guitars and yet doesn’t play, so Erik was able to bring a couple back to our room.  He even got to play an electric guitar once owned by a member of The Cure.  We always miss having our instruments when we are travelling, so that was a really nice bonus. The last couple of days were more like typical Scottish weather – cooler and showery, but we’ve had so much good weather, that we really can’t complain!

Next up: Highland Folk Museum, Glencoe, Oban, and Iona Island.

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Sunday Carvery lunch at Golfview Hotel

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Big Castle-y place near Nairn
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Everything is so green and so pretty
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We ate lunch here in Inverness
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Inverness
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Soooooo good
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Illicit photo taken inside Brodie Castle (before I found out I’m not supposed to take photos)
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The back of Brodie Castle
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Visiting dead relatives

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More sunset pics
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Beach in Nairn
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Glendronach Distillery Tour

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Culloden field Hospital. Was also a home for family with 13 kids

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Our sundeck, also our rain deck
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Our “apartment”

Meeting Cousins in Cupar, Scotland

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Lambs on the Hill of Tarvit, Cupar

May 23-25: Cupar, Scotland

We have ten days in Scotland and plan to spend most of it in the Highlands, looking for dead relatives.  As an avid genealogist, I try to fit in some family tree work whenever I am visiting the UK. If the Spain and Portugal sunshine was for Erik, then northern Scotland is for me. A few years ago, when I joined ancestry.com, I was able to connect with cousins that I’d never have met otherwise. In some cases, after emailing back and forth a few times, I added some onto my Facebook.

When my 2nd cousin, Jim, heard we would be visiting Scotland, he and his wife, Lorna, offered their home to us for a couple of nights.  Since they live just a little north of Edinburgh, right on the way to our destination, we decided to take them up on their offer. It would super to meet real family in Scotland.!

Our Easyjet flight from Lisbon arrived in Edinburgh about 2:30pm, so we collected our baggage, picked up our rental car, and stopped to get cash and a UK SIM card for my phone. It didn’t take Erik long to get used to driving a stick shift on the left side of the road, although we did verbalize “stay on the left” frequently whenever we had to make turns etc. It was only a one hour drive and we were settled into our family “B&B” by supper time.

The small town of Cupar (Pop: 10,000), in the “Kingdom of Fife”, is very pretty with the River Eden winding through, and loads of grey stone buildings. An hour north of Edinburgh, it is only a 20 minute drive from St Andrew’s on the east coast of Scotland. After we settled in and had some supper, Jim and Lorna took us for a walk along the river through town, and we stopped a pub for a beer.

As we were staying two nights, we would have one full day to visit and tour around and so after breakfast the next day, they took us out for a drive with lots of stops. First we drove to the coast, south of St Andrew’,s and had coffee at a little cafe in the pretty seaside village of Pittenweem.  We wandered along the shore and took pictures of fishing boats and the sea.

Next, we drove to Falkland, where we stayed three years ago, and which is used as a stand-in for Inverness on the Outlander series, and met another 2nd cousin, Carol, for lunch at a quirky little organic restaurant, called Pillars of Hercules.  We had “toasties” (grilled/toasted sandwiches) and ginger beer (my new favourite thing to drink because it’s SO much tastier than ginger ale) and enjoyed lots of laughs with Carol, Jim, and Lorna.  The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny – not at all what we had expected of Scotland.

After lunch, Carol left us, and we continued our journey, stopping first for a visit to Falkland Castle.  Erik and I bought a year pass to Scotland National Trust for £70 so we can now visit any of their holdings in the UK.  It’ll pay for itself if we visit at least three places.  There was a guide in each room telling us all about the castle and it was quite interesting to hear the history and see how the other half live.

Afterwards, we drove to Cairnie Fruit Farms and had tea and cake on the outdoor patio.  The entire area is gorgeously green and pastoral, and I just adore the rolling hills with stacked stone walls to keep the sheep safe. We picked up some strawberries and ice cream, and then went home where I helped Jim make a vegetarian supper.

Around sunset, 9-10pm, we drove to nearby Hill of Tarvit and walked through the wood and up the steep hill for a spectacular view of the landscape.  We were in the midst of a flock of sheep with their young lambs frolicking about and I got some great photos.  If it wasn’t for the frequent rain that keeps this land so green, I could easily live here.

We thoroughly enjoyed our two nights in Cupar and it was really special to be able to stay with family we’ve only previous “met” online.  I do hope to see them again some time – perhaps they will decide to come to Canada some day!

Next up: The Scottish Highlands

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Lambs
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Bridge over the River Eden in Cupar
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Cupar
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Pittenween
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Pittenween
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Falkland, from the castle window
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Jim, me, and Erik

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Jim, Carol, and me
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Carol, me, Erik, Lorna, and Jim
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Starting up the Hill of Tarvit
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Half way up
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Bluebells

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View from the top
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Erik and Jim reach the top
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Loads of Rhodies in bloom right now

Last Stop, Lisbon

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Roman Temple ruins in Evora

May 20-23: Evora and Lisbon, Portugal 

We left Seville around 11am, gaining an hour when we crossed the border back into Portugal,  and made an overnight stop in Evora, another medieval town.  We had the afternoon to check out the cathedral, the old Roman temple, and the palace.  It was hot and muggy, so I went inside the cool cathedral to get a closer look while Erik sat out under some trees. We had a lovely lunch on a beautiful patio restaurant where I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich on a croissant and thought of my Grandma. My mom will probably smile and remember why.  I am getting just a wee bit tired of Spanish food and I was really happy to have something quite a bit different from the regular fare.

The next morning, we checked out early, and drove to the Lisbon airport to drop off our rental car.  Because it can always be a bit confusing to find the rental return area at a busy airport, I had checked google street view the night before and made sure I knew exactly how to get there.  It’s always so helpful to be able to read the signs when they are stationary. The drop off went well but we still had a couple of hours before we could check into our Lisbon apartment so we took some time to find the Easyjet bag drop in Departures so we wouldn’t have to waste time searching when we fly out Tuesday morning.  I’m glad we did because it took quite a while to figure it out.  We had some lunch and then took the Metro, with one station change, into the Alfama district of old Lisbon.  The Metro system was easy to use, with English directions, and once again, I had read information online on how to use the Lisbon metro system.

We walked along the cobblestone streets in the heat, dragging our luggage behind us, and wound our way up a few narrow streets to the apartment door. We had been given the password to a box holding the key so we were able to get into the suite without meeting our host. The stairs up to the second floor were narrow and very steep, with no handrail, which is typical of older parts of any city in Europe.

Apparently building codes, safety regulations, and lawsuits are non-existent so life is always an adventure.  You just need to use your common sense and be careful.  That being said, I do have a bruised and skinned knee when I stepped off a curb in Ronda and fell to the ground, but hey, I shouldn’t have been looking ahead – I should have looked where I was going. 😉

Anyway – back to Lisbon.  We had booked the apartment through Airbnb and read the reviews carefully (back in February) but apparently since that time, there had been a few new reviews with mention of a musty smell, and boy, did we notice it when we walked inside.  The 2nd storey apartment window opened onto a small courtyard below that housed a few garbage cans, and there was also a seafood restaurant nearby, so I thought maybe some of the smell had come from there. I closed the window and turned on the a/c but it didn’t help.  Eventually we called the host and she suggested we turn off the a/c and open the windows wide, so we did, and then went out for a walk for an hour.  Things seemed better when we returned.  I cooked spaghetti with meatballs for dinner and that made the apartment smell excellent so I figured we were good for the night.

However,  overnight the smell returned and I slept poorly and was quite irritated by morning.  We discussed moving to a hotel, but ultimately decided to stay put because moving was more hassle than it was worth, and we had an early flight the following morning. We had messaged our host and he stopped by with his handyman while we were out for breakfast, but we’d left the windows open for an hour and the smell wasn’t there. Ah well, live and learn. It’s always a chance you take when staying in the older part of a city. Ultimately, we decided the smell was coming from the a/c which had a fan running whenever it wasn’t cooling.  It smelled fine with the coolant on, but not so much when it wasn’t.

But Lisbon – hmmmm, I didn’t love it.  Maybe it was because I was tired and ready to move on to a new country, maybe it was because I was cranky about our apartment, maybe it was because we were in a busy bigger city – I don’t know.  We had one full day which we did enjoy, but overall, I don’t think I’d go back.

There are quite a few things to see and do in Lisbon, but all we really did was catch tram 15 down to see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, an impressive monument to Henry the Navigator.  It was quite nice walking along the waterfront, and there are several other sights of interest in this area – the Belem Tower, the National Coach Museum, and the Monastery of Jeronimo, as well as a few museums.  Fortunately/unfortunately, it was Monday so everything was closed. We wouldn’t have had the time nor the energy to go inside anyway, so we were content to save a few bucks on entrance tickets.

Lisbon is probably best known for its Fado (music) clubs.  Yeah, I know we should have made reservations and had dinner at one of the clubs so we could enjoy their expressive singing, but we just didn’t feel like it – surprise, surprise.  We had an early flight the next morning, and the music doesn’t usually start until after 10pm so we decided to give it a miss. Later, when we read reviews, it sounded like a lot of the Fado clubs are really just put on for tourists and tend to be expensive with subpar food. A decent show with dinner would have set us back about €100, and we just weren’t up for it.

So – this is probably not the best review of Lisbon, and if you visit, you may absolutely love it.  I think we were just at the tail end of a long 3 1/2 week trip and were ready to shift gears.  I’ve found that when we travel, we are sometimes surprised to find which places exceed our expectations and which places fail to live up to them. It’s all part of travelling I guess.

Next up:  Scotland!

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Vineyard near Evora
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Pateo restaurant in Evora
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Another lovely cathedral, in Evora
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One of my favourite restaurants
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Lots of Tuktuks to get your around Lisbon
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Cactus!
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Our apartment
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Lisbon waterfront
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Plaza de Comercio
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Lisbon
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Lisbon, bridge similar to Golden Gate
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Henry the Navigator monument
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Mosterio de Jeronimo
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Torre de Belem, Lisbon
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Cute mobile wine restaurant

Sevilla, Spain

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Seville Cathedral

May 17-20: Sevilla, Spain

OK, we loved Granada, but Seville was pretty darn wonderful as well. There is SO much to see and do there, we found our three days were quite busy.  We had a big studio apartment in the Macarena district of the old city with about a 1 km walk to the Cathedral  and Alcazar, and about the same distance to the river.  We walked a LOT in the city and didn’t end up using any other modes of transportation, although there are a lot of possibilities for tourists – Hop On Hop Off busses (too pricey and skirted around the edges of the old town too much), all day transit passes which would be useful if you aren’t comfortable walking 2-10km in a day, lots of great bikes lanes with municipal bike rentals (useful for longer term visits), as well as regular tourist bike rentals, and horse-drawn carriage rides for people with cash to spare.  There is no excuse to not see all there is to see.

We arrived in the afternoon and our first order of business was to find our reserved parking spot which was location a couple of blocks from our apartment. We drove the ring road around most of the city, but eventually had to turn into the old town and start winding our way down the narrow, one-way cobblestone streets and alleys.  Our hosts had sent us a video that showed how to get into the parking lot and it appeared to involve a couple of three point turns to get the car facing the right direction in and out of a narrow alley.  We watched it several times, checked out the route on google street view, and STILL managed to miss the underground parking access on our first attempt.  Suddenly we found ourselves continuing down the one-way alley with no clue as to how to find our way back to our starting point.  Luckily, Erik is calm and confident in these situations now, and I am a pretty darn good navigator, so I quickly managed to figure out a route that got us back to the garage without too much trouble.  Our biggest pressure was that our host was waiting for us at the apartment and he had to leave to pick up his kids from school in 15 minutes.

Once we rolled down the ramp, the woman attendant directed us into a very tight spot, manually pushing a couple of cars out of the way in order to make room for us! I guess  some owners had left their cars in neutral so she could move them around when she needed to, since the parking garage was packed with cars two to three deep in places.  Finally, we were parked and *almost* able to edge the doors open wide enough to squeeze out of the car.  We quickly paid her €30 for three days parking, and literally ran down the road to find our apartment and Antonio before he left to pick up his kids. Luckily, Antonio was still waiting, (I’d been messaging him on WhatsApp throughout our parking ordeal so he knew we were on our way) and he quickly showed us into the unit and gave us the information we would need.

The apartment was on the main floor and was a large studio, although the bed was in a partially screened-off room.  It had a big living room area with two couches, and a kitchen with a two burner range and other appliances.  We also had a washing machine and a drying rack so we immediately did a load of clothes and hung them to dry. Antonio had also left us with two bikes, but one of them had non-existent back brakes so we didn’t use them. That was too bad because they would have come in handy.  We found the apartment through booking.com and it was €93 / $136CAD per night.  Seville is probably the most expensive place we will stay in on this trip.

As a side note, the Canadian dollar has dropped a lot since we booked most of these accommodations in February, and most places ended up costing us $10-20 per night more than we had originally planned. On the other hand, we were really glad we HAD booked in advance because most of the places we stayed at were either full up or considerably more expensive when booking last minute.

On our first afternoon in Seville, Erik went for a walk around the neighbourhood while I hung out at home and then made spaghetti for dinner. Later in the evening, after 10pm, we walked all the way down to the cathedral plaza where there are a number of tourist sights.  The cathedral itself is massive, the 3rd largest cathedral in the world I think, and it looked beautiful lit up against the deep blue-black sky of the evening. We found the entrance to the Alcazar so we’d know where to go for our 11:30am entrance time the next day.

I strongly recommend buying your Alcazar tickets online even if you are already in the city.  When you approach the entrance, there is a line on the left for groups, a long line on the right for buying tickets, and a practically non-existent line in the middle for people who already have tickets.  What a deal – we walked right past everyone in line, showed our digital ticket and walked in. I paid €9 and Erik only had to pay €2 as a senior – a bonus of being married to an old guy. 😉  There was an additional €1 charge each for the online ticket, but that is well worth it in my opinion if it means you don’t wait in line.

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Real Alcazar

On our first full day, we spent several hours in the Real Alcazar (Royal Alcazar) with its beautiful gardens and amazing architecture.  Although I’ve seen a lot of castles and cathedrals in Europe, I’ve found the buildings in southern Spain quite interesting with the Islamic architecture and design, mixed with Christian and even Pagan elements. Muslims do not believe in using images and instead use intricate, repetitive, geometric patterns, frequently in blues and browns.

Rather than try to describe the Alcazar, I will quote a passage from their website. 

The Alcázar of Seville is one of the most representative monumental compounds in the city, the country and the Mediterranean culture as a whole. The historical evolution of the city in the last millennium is held within its walls and gardens, amalgamating influences starting from the Arabic period, late Middle Ages Mudéjar right through to the Renaissance, Baroque and the XIX century. The declaration of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 acknowledged the survival of cultures and civilizations as a harmonic whole where all of the elements are balanced. The visitor will get to know these unique surroundings either through the legendary al-Mutamid, the XI century monarch and poet from Seville, or through some of the characters that illuminated modern-day Spain around 1812.

We went out for dinner that night and had a so-so meal at a restaurant close to home.  We each had Andalusian Gazpacho which was excellent, followed by an omelette, which our host had recommended.  I had wanted the asparagus omelette, but when the waiter brought out Erik’s mushroom omelette, he told me they were out of asparagus so I had a mushroom one as well.  It turned out to be mostly mushrooms, and only a little scrambled egg mixed in for good luck I think.  The flavour was ok, but neither of us could eat the whole thing. To be honest, I think they dumped an entire can of mushrooms in a pan, and scrambled and egg or two into the mix.  Seriously. And then it took close to an hour to get an espresso and our bill. Subsequently, the next night, we ate leftover spaghetti. 🙂

On our second full day, we went for a long walk to the Plaza de Espana and Maria Luisa Park which were about 2.5 km away. The Plaza is a semi-circle of government buildings that were constructed for Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. It was quite impressive and beautiful with a huge open plaza in front.  All along the walls of the buildings were alcoves with maps and photos of every region of Spain. We enjoyed finding all the places we have been both on the Camino last year, and in southern Spain this trip.

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Parque de Maria Louisa

Next to the Plaza was a large park with many sections, from carefully manicured flower beds, to deep forests with massive trees.  There were gazebos, and fountains, and even a bird island.  We wandered in the cool shadows on that hot day until our feet hurt, and then we walked along the river before finally turning back into the city and up to our apartment. In the evening, we walked back to the cathedral one last time to sit by the fountain in the middle of the plaza, and watched the people.  There was a big wedding just finishing and also some kind of strange religious ceremony going down another street.  I really enjoy sitting in a plaza late at night – it reminds me of our month in Orvieto.

We didn’t pay to go into the Cathedral – we’ve seen many beautiful churches and didn’t feel like spending another €10-15 –  but I did take lots of pictures of the beautiful exterior though as I just love Gothic architecture.  We did visit the much smaller, and less ostentatious Basilica de Macarena and saw the very famous and much revered “Virgen de la Esperanza de Macarena de Sevilla” (Virgin of Hope of Macarena).  This 17th century, full size wooden statue is carried through the city to the big cathedral during Seville’s holy week – La Semana Santa. It was free to visit the church but there was a small fee for the museum.  It would be interesting to visit Seville during holy week.

Although I normally don’t love large cities, I really did enjoy visiting Seville.  We were able to stay in a quieter neighbourhood but still had easy access to the touristy spots. It’s so much nicer to have more than just a bed in a hotel room, although I do prefer it when we also have a terrace or balcony so we can sit outside as well. I also really enjoyed being able to cook a few meals because I quickly get tired of restaurant food on long trips, and we are able to save a lot of money when we eat at home.  It’s also a bonus to be able to retreat to a quiet apartment when you’ve been out walking all day.

Next up:  A night in Evora, then Lisbon.

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Parque de Maria Louisa
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Real Alcazar

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Parque de Maria Louisa
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Parque de Maria Louisa
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Plaza de España
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Plaza de España
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Plaza de España
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Christopher Columbus monument
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Virgen de Macarena
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Seville Cathedral
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Real Alcazar
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Real Alcazar
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Real Alcazar
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Seville Cathedral

The Wonder of El Tajo in Ronda, Spain

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Puente Nuevo spans the gorge El Tajo

May 15-17: Ronda, Spain

Ronda is a gorgeous little medieval town, located between Granada and Sevilla, and perched on either side of a 400+ foot  gorge called El Tajo.  We stayed in smaller “old town” which dates back more than 1000 years to Moorish times while across the old bridge is the “new” town, built in the mid-1400’s.

There are three bridges crossing the El Tajo gorge.  The lowest is Puente Veijo (old bridge), also called the Arab bridge.  Close by, and slightly higher, is Puente Romano.  The tallest one, crossing at the highest point of the gorge, is the 200 year old Puente Nuevo (new bridge).  I read that this is the second bridge built on the site.  The first one was built too hastily in 1739 and ended up collapsing five years later, killing fifty people. On the west side of the gorge, the Guadalevin River falls over a 50 foot waterfall. To learn more about the history and construction of the Puente Nuevo, check out this interesting site.

The bridge and gorge is all the more spectacular given their rural surroundings, as the backdrop is of lovely green fields and gentle hills.  As we walked down the trail to the lower bridges, we met up with a farmer and his helper moving 75 sheep to the next pasture. We passed by the old arab bath ruins (€4 entry), and then crossed the Roman bridge and wandered up through a series of tiered lookouts to see the beauty of the bridges, the gorge, and the river below.

We booked our B&B through booking.com, staying at the Boabdil Guesthouse (named after Mohammad the Xll who was known as King Boabdil to the Spanish and who ruled from 1480 until the final conquest in 1492).  Our guesthouse was in an old Moorish house, and separated into a number of guest rooms, each with private bath, and most with a deck or balcony.  There was a shared lounge room with access to a fridge and coffee/tea as well as an “Honesty Bar” where you could purchase inexpensive cold drinks. (€60 / $105 CAD per night)

We stayed in Ronda for two nights which gave us a full day to wander both the new and the old towns, hike the trail down to the lower bridges, and loop back up to the top.  We also went took another trail on the lower side of the bridge to get a better look at the waterfall.

On our second night, we ate at a small tapas bar that was just around the corner from our B&B.  It had a menu of about 25 items, all prepared fresh by a Basque chef.  They were based on traditional foods of the area but given a new twist and were absolutely delicious.  The restaurant is called De Locos Tapas and only has about seven tables so you must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance.  We were lucky to get in.  We ordered six different dishes and shared them all, and two desserts, as they were brought to the table by the busy waitress.  The portions weren’t large but the prices were excellent and we left quite full for only $55 CAD including drinks.  It was arguably the best meal we’ve had in Spain.

On our way to Sevilla the next morning, we drove down a narrow country road to the bottom of the valley to get a few final photos of the bridge crossing El Tajo, from below.  What an amazing site, and such a feat of construction! Ronda is definitely worth a side trip, if you don’t plan to visit over night. That being said, we were glad to have had two nights.

Next up:  Seville, Spain

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Oh, Granada

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Bridge over Rio Darro, along Paseo de los Tristes

May 12-15: Granada, Spain

Wow, what an amazing city – one that you definitely need at least three days to visit.  There’s so much to see, so much to do, so much history, and such an eclectic mix of people and visitors. Thousands of years of history that includes Roman, Moorish, Gypsy, Jewish, and Christian influences, provide an interesting intermingling of architecture, culture, language, and food.

Leaving Torrox, we drove along the Costa del Sol for awhile, then turned north at Motril.  It was an easy drive of just over an hour.  We had a small studio apartment booked within the city walls and had reserved underground parking.  In order to do that, we had to register our car licence plate and passport information with our hosts and they arranged it so we could enter the residents-only part of the city.  Luckily we only had to drive about 400m to our apartment. However,  once we arrived, we couldn’t find a temporary parking spot by the church as planned, so we stopped to asses our surroundings for a moment, got honked at, quickly continued driving through a narrow alley, and pulled up onto a curb. I left Erik with the car and  walked back to the apartment to check in.  One of our hosts, Isabelle, returned to the car with me, and we carried our bags in, and then she hopped into the car with Erik and directed him around the block to the underground parking.  We are lucky that we have a small car and that Erik is a confident driver in Europe, as I suspect the whole thing might terrify someone more hesitant (like me!).

Once we were safely ensconced in our room, we checked out the rest of the apartment, Carmen de Ramilla.  It was a lovely old 16th century building, recently renovated into four apartments, while keeping as much of the original stone and woodwork as possible.  Originally a moorish home, it had been owned for years by an old woman who had eventually died there before Marie bought the building in 2008 and went through four years of careful renovation and three years of approval process. We learned that it was designated as a “Carmen” which meant it had to have a walled garden with a grape vine, a water feature (ours had several small fountains and a small swimming pool), fruit trees (lemon and orange), flowers and shrubs, and an herb garden.  The area was a beautiful, calm oasis in such a busy city and we enjoyed sitting out on the lawn chairs in the afternoon several times.

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Our handy little kitchen

Our room had a double bed, another single bed we used for our luggage, a small kitchen area with a 2 burner stove, microwave, sink, dishes etc, as well a olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, coffee and tea.  It had the prettiest oriental tea pot I have ever seen and I spent the rest of my trip looking for a similar one in the many shops of Granada but to no avail.  We had a window in the bathroom as well as double french door/windows in the main room that opened up onto the noisy street below (we were on the second storey).  All through the day, and into the evening, we could hear groups of young travellers wandering the streets, laughing and singing.

While on the coast we saw lots of wealthier tourists, primarily British and German folks, but in Granada, there were lots of young people, back packers, and gypsies in addition to the regular European and North American tourists.  Granada is home to a large university which houses over 60,000 students which also plays into the large number of youths in the city.

IMG_8094We were staying in the Albaicin part of Granada (on the north side), and the tourist train went right by our apartment.  For €15 total, we were able to get a 2 day pass to use the train any time we wanted.  It ran every 15 -20 minutes right up until 11:00pm and did an 1:15 loop around the city.  If you plugged in earbuds, you could listen to a commentary of what you were seeing in about 10 different languages.

The most interesting and exciting place to see in Granada is the Alhambra – a massive network of structures the dominates the hill on one side of the city. Originally built around 800AD, and added on to after that, it has been in ruins and rebuilt several times and now contains many buildings including palaces, halls, and gardens with both Muslim and Christian architecture. There are also several hotels and restaurants in the area.

HOWEVER, if you want to visit the Alhambra, you need to go online and buy your tickets at least a MONTH before you want to visit.  We did not know this and so we missed out on visiting this beautiful place.  We were only able to access the free part of the gardens and the Charles V palace. Ah well, live and learn.  It gives us a reason to come back some day.

We found many of Granada’s restaurants on the pricey side, although we did have one great find down along Paseo de los Tristes, the street that runs along the creek below the Alhambra – called La Bella y La Bestia. We stopped for lunch and Erik ordered a bocadilla (sub sandwich) for €4 and I had a bagel sandwich for €2.20. The waiter also brought a free tapa – a large portion of fries with pieces of pork and tasty sauce.  We had more food than we could finish and didn’t need to have more than a snack for dinner that night. We also enjoyed breakfast and a very good cafe con leche, fresh sumo de naranja (OJ), and a large toasted bun (tostada), split and served with tomato sauce or jam. All for only €4.30 at Cafe Marivi, just around the corner from our apartment.

IMG_8112One night we went to a restaurant nearby to watch a Flamenco show.  It wasn’t one of the big performances that you find in Sevilla, but the musicians and dancers were talented and we enjoyed the show.  It was €20 each, plus our drinks.  Flamenco first began in the mid-1700’s and has a strong Arabic and Romany influence, in addition to Spanish, which I hadn’t realized before. It was really interesting and fun to watch the women’s pained expressions as they sang of their trials and tribulations.  I would have loved to have understood the stories they told with their songs.

We were quite close to the Mirador de San Nicolas and got some great photos of the Alhambra from that view point, then we wandered down the streets to the bottom of the hill and found streets lined with little shops filled with colourful clothing, pottery, hooka pipes and souvenirs.  I could have wandered those streets for hours.

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Monasterio de San Jeronimo

There are several churches you can visit in Granada – the main one being the Catedral de Granada (€5 euro entry).  It was Sunday when we stopped in so it wasn’t open for visiting but we were able to quietly stand in the back and take a peek during mass.  It was pretty but nowhere near as beautiful as the Monasterio de San Jeronimo that we visited earlier in the day.   For only €4 each, we wandered around the main cloister which was started in 1504, and then into the chapel which was absolutely stunning. I especially loved the altarpiece.  Here, el Gran Capitan, Gonzalo Frenandez de Cordoba, and his wife, Doña Maria, are buried.

Granada can be a bit touristy at times, and is likely very busy in the high season, but it is a beautiful and incredibly interesting city.  If you can find a little “carmen” B&B or apartamento where you can prepare simple meals once in awhile, and have a peaceful place to relax after a long day touring, it is definitely worth a 3-4 day visit.  I would definitely love to go back.

Next up:
Ronda

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Our kitchen
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Tourist Train
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Bridge over Rio Durro
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The gorgeous altarpiece
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Our “Carmen de Ramilla”
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I read here. A lot.
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Part of our building
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Where we ate breakfast
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Desayuno
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Monasterio Cloister
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Charles V Palace
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First peek into the chapel

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Window shopping

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Strong Moorish influence
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Market streets
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A different kind of cobblestone here

Jerez de la Frontera and Torrox, Spain

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Dinner on our balcony in Torrox

Rather than visiting the more famous cities of the Andalusian coast of Spain, such as Cadiz, Malaga, Nerja etc, we again opted for slightly less touristy places of Jerez and Torrox.

May 8-10: Jerez de la Frontera

It was about a 4 hour drive from Salema, Portugal to Jerez, Spain.

The highways in both Portugal and Spain are excellent and very easy to drive.  When we rented our car in Porto, we paid €15 for a small transponder that automatically calculates any tolls we are charged and we will pay the bill when we drop off our car in Lisbon.  The toll highways were easy to use. Sometimes we drove through a toll booth where we simply chose the lane with the Via Verde sign which was unmanned and it automatically calculated the toll as we drove by.  Other times, there was simply a structure over the highway that we triggered when we drove under it at normal speed.

In Spain, we had to pay tolls with our credit card, but it too was a simple process – just choose the lane with the “tarjeta” sign, insert your card, press the button, get your card back, and you’re on your way (to be safe, we always use our secondary credit card in case it gets eaten by a machine).  Most tolls in this part of Spain are a flat rate.

Not all highways had tolls and you could choose to drive other roads, but the toll highways are 4 lane, mostly divided highways, with roadside services every 30-50 km, and are fast, well-marked, and not very busy except near larger cities.  The road side services in Portugal were particularly nice.  They were set up pretty much the same all the way along so it was easy to access, and had gas, free clean bathrooms, a small store and usually a small coffee shop.  There was often covered parking, picnic tables and a child’s playground. As you neared the stop, the sign let you know how far the next services were located. Spain was similar although not quite as organized – but still, easy to access.

Jerez was a fairly large city, about 30 minutes inland from the coast, and we found great deal on a hotel just a 10 minute walk from the old-town core of the city (Hipotels Sherry Park €59/night, $88CAD – once again through booking.com).  The hotel was fairly modern, upscale, had beautiful grounds (grass, flowers, trees), a private pool and patio area with a snack bar, and our room was comfortable and had a nice balcony overlooking the pool.

Jerez is noted for its sherry and for its dancing horse show.  Our hotel was one block from the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art where, for €21-27 per person, you can see the daily show (we didn’t).

Jerez means “sherry” in English and like the Port in Porto, it is a fortified wine, although the fermentation process is different.  As an aside, the used barrels are often sold to distilleries in Scotland and used to store and age whisky. My favourite Glendronoch is aged in sherry casks and I hope to visit the distillery in a few weeks when we are in northern Scotland. As we already had a bottle of Port open, we didn’t buy a bottle of sherry, but we did enjoy a glass for lunch at a restaurant one day.

We stayed for two nights in Jerez, and so had one full day to wander around, as well as had some time to hang out at our pool in the afternoon sun.  We were about 1.5km from the centre of the old city which was an easy walk along the cobblestone streets.

We saw the exterior of the Jerez Cathedral and also of the famous Alcazar de Jerez, which is now a park and includes an old mosque reminding us of 700 years of Moorish influence in the area. The Muslim Moors invaded in the 700’sAD and controlled much of this part of Spain until the end of Reconquista in 1492AD when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella won it back.

We enjoyed wandering the streets of old Jerez and here were lots of restaurants, bars, and shops to see.  We stopped for lunch at a patio restaurant and Erik had a tapas platter while I had Andalusian Gazpacho. We could have driven to the coastal beach city of Cadiz, just 30 minutes away, but chose not to.

May 10-12: Gibraltar, UK, and Torrox, Spain

The next day, we drove another 4 hours or so to the coastal area below the city of Torrox, and since we would be passing it along the way, we thought we’d stop in for a quick visit to Gilbraltar. Haha, yeah, that was NOT a good plan.  First we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes or more to cross the border (and all the time I was desperately needing to use a bathroom).  Unlike crossing the border in other EU countries, you actually have to go through customs and show your passport here.  If you have nothing to declare, it’s a fairly quick process once you arrive at the border control, but there can be a long wait to get there, exacerbated by the fact that you must drive across an airport runway, and if there is a plane taking off or landing, you will have an extra 15-20 minute wait.

IMG_7818Once we crossed and drove into the tiny, crowded city, with its many one way streets, we found there was absolutely no parking available anywhere.  We drove past the tram that takes you up the mountain, got quasi-lost in the narrow winding streets, and finally pulled into a gas station to get some cheap gas (89 pence/litre), use the bathroom, and catch our breath.  We got directions on how to get the heck out of there, since we’d heard the border crossing was actually longer leaving than entering, but luckily, it was a quick  exit back into Spain.  Phew.  That was one hour we’d never get back and nothing to show for it but cheap gas. LOL…

Our recommendation – plan to spend a solid half day or more if you want to visit Gibraltar, park at one of the large lots just outside of the border crossing (on the Spain side), take a bus or walk across the border into the town, and then see what you want to see.  We were there in the shoulder season so I can’t imagine what it must be like when it’s actually busy.

A few more hours down the road, we bypassed the larger city of Torrox, and drove a 10 minutes down to the coast to find our apartment complex, which was just on the edge of town, overlooking the sea. We had rented a one bedroom apartment through Hotels.com for €90 per night, and had paid a little extra for the seaview/sea facing room.  We were upgraded to a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment which was really nice, and we had a large balcony with a large table and chairs and two lounge chairs. We looked out at the Mediterranean Sea and down onto the grassy pool area.  About half the units are owned and the other half rented out. Although the complex is on the side of a hill, it was a short walk down to the beach, and then about a 5-10 minute walk to the first restaurant on the strip.  We had underground parking for €5 and it was an easy 5-10 minute drive to a choice of 5 grocery stores of varying sizes.

We bought groceries and ate at home both nights we were there.  The kitchen was fully equipped with appliances and dishes but had no extras like salt/pepper/oil/vinegar like other places usually have,  However it did have a washing machine AND a dryer (rare) so we were able to do a load of clothes.

It was partly cloudy and a bit showery on one day and sunny the next and other than walking on the beach, reading on our deck, or sitting by the pool, we didn’t do much else.  It was another nice, relaxing time on the Mediterranean.

Next up: Granada

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Hotel in Jerez
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Edge of old town Jerez
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Jerez streets
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Tio Pepe, Jerez
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Market in Jerez
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Alzazar de Jerez
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Alcazar de Jerez
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Fresh fish market

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Entering Gibraltar
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Torrox pebbly beach
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Our apartment in Torrox
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View from the patio in Torrox on a showery morning

 

Avoiding the Crowds in Salema, Portugal

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Our beach, almost empty in May

May 5-8, Salema

While we were very much looking forward to the warm climate and beaches of southern  Portugal and Spain, we were not looking forward to looking at walls of hotels, crowded promenades, loads of people, and other tourist traps.  We had watched several of Rick Steves videos of the Algarve (southern Portugal) and the Costa del Sol and Andalusia (southern Spain) and had an idea of what to we wanted to see and what we wanted to avoid.  Ultimately we chose to spend 3 days in the tiny fishing village of Salema, Portugal, and 2 nights on the edge of the city of Torrox, Spain. They were both peaceful areas, had beautiful beaches, all the amenities we needed, and restaurants frequented by the locals.

We loved Salema in particular (there’s a good article here) – we stayed in the old town close to the beach, while further up the hill and mostly out of sight, were the whitewashed houses of the seasonal tourists.

The town core was tiny, with two small grocery stores, a handful of restaurants and bars, and a few souvenir shops, and overall, it was fairly quiet.  The sandy beach was about 1 km long,  with rocky sections and cliffs on either end.  In fact there were signs warning people not to sit too close to the cliffs as they tend to collapse from time to time.

Our apartment was about 300 steps to the beach – yes I counted – and our room had a large terrace with a beautiful view of the sea (albeit with a few trash cans and a power line between, that I could quite easily overlook).

We booked the apartment through booking.com again and it was bit pricier than it was worth (€80/night) but still a good deal for the area.  It was a studio suite, with a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom/sitting room, large sliding doors with a high window, and a huge private terrace. My only complaints were that the bed was hard and fairly uncomfortable and the place needs a bit of sprucing up in general.  The owner did say outdoor painting begins next week, but I think it could use a new (better) bed and fresh bedding as well. Other than that, we actually loved it, if only for its location and its terrace.

Our host recommended a local restaurant, O Laurenco, and we were glad we went.  It was small but the fish was so fresh, they brought it around on a tray to let you choose your meal.  We had no reservations but we went early and were very lucky to get a table for two – in the best booth in the house!  The food was delicious and we enjoyed our evening. You should know that in Portugal, they will often bring you food like tapas or appies without you ordering it. It could be a simple as bread and oil, a bowl of olives, or something more substantial.  But if you eat it, you pay for it.  If you don’t want to pay for it, just say no when they bring it to the table.  It’s an interesting custom, but can be a surprise the first time you get your bill and find a ‘cover’ for all those easy treats added on.

The next day, we drove 15 minutes to Sagres where we paid a few euros to walk around the old Fortress where Henry the Navigator set up his sailing school to prepare his men to search beyond the edge of the world in the late 1400’s. The views were spectacular and the sun was warm so we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the promontory.  It was exciting and even a little terrifying to watch some local fisherman with their long fishing rods, teetering off the edge of the cliff, and casting their lines down a few hundred feet or more to the sea below.

Next we drove another five minutes further to the lighthouse on Cabo de Sao Vicente which is the southwestern-most point in Portugal, and took in the beautiful views there as well.  Next stop, North America!  There were a string of locals with tables selling various souvenirs including beautiful hand knit wool sweaters and gorgeous hand painted pottery.  Sad to say, I resisted buying anything that I’d have to carry around in my suitcase for another month or more.

On the way home, we picked up some chicken and spaghetti and a few other ingredients and I made chicken cacciatore in our little kitchen. We ate on our terrace and enjoyed the view. On our final day, we hung out at the beach and our terrace and enjoyed the sun and read a lot, then had leftover chicken and appies for supper at home again.

We’ve begun to realize that we really enjoy it when we stay three nights in one place.  That way we have one full day to tour around and see the sights, and another day to relax and do very little.  We have three nights planned in both Granada and Sevilla so we’re glad about that, especially since they are larger cities.

Next Up : Jerez de la Frontera and Torrox, Spain.

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Old Salema from the beach
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Cafe con leche on the deck of a seaside restaurant
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Yes, it’s a fishing village
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Gorgeous beach
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Cape St Vincent
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Old compass rose on the site
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Tasty treats before our meal
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Catch of the Day – Bream
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Chicken Cacciatore on our terrace
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Love this pottery

Nazare and Obidos

May 4-5: Nazare

On our way south from Porto and the Duoro Valley, heading down towards the Algarve coast of southern Portugal, we stopped in Nazare, a seaside town famous for fishing and surfing, and then the following day, we stopped in for an hour to the medieval village of Obidos. Both were interesting yet very different places to visit for a day.

It was about a 3 hour drive with a stop for gas to get down to Nazare.  In May, the town was relatively quiet and we had no problem finding a parking spot a few blocks from our apartment, but I can imagine in mid-summer, it must be very busy.

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Nazare from the shoreline

The beach in Nazare is wide and sandy and it has a few colourful wooden fishing boats on display, more for show than practical use now.  But what truly makes this beach unique are the waves.  Today it was relatively calm and the waves were only a metre or so high, but there are some amazing photos and videos on Youtube that show some of the world’s largest waves on this beach.  I was chatting with a gnarly fisherman, who explained that the sea floor is stepped up along the north side of the beach and that is why the waves are so huge in this area. Needless to say, this area is popular with surfers.

We almost felt like we had stepped back in time a little when we saw people wearing traditional clothing, in particular, the older women with their shawls and their seven layered knee-length skirts – or maybe it’s one skirt with 6 petticoats, I’m not suite sure. Traditionally the women were the fishmongers, and they wore several skirts as they sat on the beach waiting for their husbands to come in, and they’d use the extra skirts to wrap up around their backs or keeps their legs warm. Some of these women can still be seen selling their wares at little stalls along the beach. Fishing may have been the original mainstay of the village, but clearly tourism and surfing now contribute more heavily.

You also see older women walking along the beach front or through the town streets, with signs indicating they will rent you a room. I remember seeing this on a Rick Steves show on Portugal, and he said they offered great deals in a real home setting. However, we already had a studio apartment booked through booking.com so we declined.  Our apartment was small but well equipped and very clean. It actually felt like I was in an Ikea display.  For only €45 ($68CAD), I think we had a great deal (although I’m sure the price is much higher in summer), and I would have been comfortable there for up to a week.

The day was showery and cool, and we didn’t have much time to do anything other than to find a restaurant, have dinner (the catch of the day of course), then head to bed.  If we’d had another day, we could have taken the funicular to the top of the 300m rock  (the Siteo) on the north end of the beach and see a great view of the town and beach.

I could easily spend a few days in this curious little fishing town.  It really gave me an idea of what life was like here 100 or more years ago.

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Sitio in the distance
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Small waves today
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Small but efficient!
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Traditional Fishing Boat
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Fisherman’s bike
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Seven skirts each
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Catch of the Day
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Sunset

Obidos

Just 30 minutes south of Nazare, Obidos is definitely worth a stop, if only for an hour or so.  I never tire of visiting medieval walled towns and Obidos did not disappoint.  We parked in the free lot next to the tourist centre and walked in, as you should do in all medieval villages.

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Minstrel serenading us

As we entered the village, we passed through the main gate called the Porta da Vila. It is decorated with the blue and white tiles that you see all over Portugal.  There was a young man playing guitar and singing in the corner as we entered and it really added to the traditional feeling of the village.

The cobblestone streets are narrow, the walls are white with red tile roofs (unlike the stone buildings in the medieval towns of France and Italy), and there is a pretty view at every turn.  The outside wall itself is continuous around the village and you can walk its 1.5 km length if you aren’t afraid of heights.  No handrails, and uneven footing means you have to wear proper shoes and be extremely careful. We only had time to climb the stairs to the top and take a few pictures but I would definitely do the walk if I had time.

Obidos is famous for its cherry liqueur called Ginja de Obidos and you can buy a small shot in a chocolate cup as you wander along the lanes. And if souvenirs are your thing, there are wall-to-wall shops lining the streets, as well as restaurants and bars.

We arrived just as several busloads of tourists unloaded and so we were briefly trapped in a slow-moving mob, but eventually we broke loose and were able to walk freely. If you really want to get a feel for a normally touristy medieval village, it’s often a good idea to stay one night and then go out on the streets in the evening, and again early in the morning before/after the busses arrive. Often you will have the place to yourself and you can immerse yourself in that amazing feeling of history and culture.

If you don’t have time for an overnight trip, a few hours is enough time to see Obidos and perhaps stop for a snack and a drink. It’s is an easy one hour drive or bus trip from Lisbon if you want to do a day trip, and in July, the village hosts a week-long medieval festival that might be fun.

We could have stayed longer but we were on our way to the Algarve and had a 4 hour drive ahead of us, and so after an hour, we were off!

Next up:  Salema, Portugal and the Algarve

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Minstrel serenading us
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A pretty shot at every turn
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Ginja cherry liqueur
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Stairs to the top of the wall
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A view from the top