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Andalusia, Castilla y Leon, Aragon and Andorra

Granada, Salamanca, Zaragoza and Andorra

sunny 28 °C

After Morocco, I'll admit that I was happy to be back in Europe. To get to Granada, it was a long drive towards Granada. About three, maybe another half hour to Granada, but it was a decent drive, with plenty of scenery to appreciate from my window, and as I admitted, I was glad to be back in Europe.

I spent three nights (two days) in Granada, and I enjoyed both entirely. Before leaving the UK, I'd booked a few things I knew might prove troublesome during my trip, and one was the Alhambra. So I purchased the Granada card, which gave me entry to many sites around the city. My apartment I'd booked was a distance from the town centre (taking a bus was the best idea) but I was left with an enormous apartment, so no complaints.

First full day in Granada was filled with most things to see except the Alhambra itself. The cathedral was stunning, and I must have spent an hour and more wandering around, but out of all the sites I visited, the one that lives long in the memory is the San Jeronimo Monastery. I've seen quite a few churches and cathedrals on my trip so far, and I think this was the first to make me stop and say 'Wow!' Trust me, if you're ever in Granada, please visit this place and make sure you see the adjoining church. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Day two in Granada was dedicated to the Alhambra. Let's get to the major question. Was it all that's it cracked up to be? Yes. It's an enormous fortress overlooking the city, and if explored correctly, you'll easily spend a few hours exploring. There are numerous regions of the old fortress to explore. The Palacios Nazaries was beautiful, at times, but the gardens of the Generalife were almost as impressive, though the buildings themselves were not comparable.

Granada isn't a huge city, but there are many monuments and historical artefacts to see if you're interested. The Granada card allowed access to the major sites while I bought a ticket to Moorish sites that might not be so popular. But don't take this as a criticism. There is so much to see in Granada, you'll probably need more than the two days I had to visit.

My next stop was Salamanca. Now, if you're wondering, when I first put my itinerary together, I did include a stop in Toledo to break up the trip. Unfortunately, this author can admit he messed up regarding Schengen, so Granada to Salamanca was a near six hour / 400 mile drive. And the suggested '2 hour, stop, revive, survive' is not for everyone. I did nearly the entire drive in one go, only needing fuel around fifty or so miles from Salamanca. I find stopping worse for my concentration than not...

Though I'd read about Salamanca before arriving, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Well, I eventually spent two of my three days wandering the old streets of the city and I was never bored. An absolute load of things to see, most you have to pay to see, but it was what I'd come to expect. Even better, though, was the fact I was there while a festival was taking place, so for my first night at least, I could take in a Spanish hard rock band. Never spoke or sang English, but after a few beers, it didn't really matter.

My second day in Salamanca included a train journey to Avila. I'll say right now, the walls in Avila were better, much much better, than those in Lugo. In fact, Avila was... Well, it certainly lives long in the memory. Plenty of things to see while I was there, most of them free. The cathedral was one of the best I'd been to in Spain, and I paid to walk the city walls, which couldn't be walked in entirety, but was well worth the admission price for that I could see.

I'll admit, the third day I had originally planned for Segovia long before. But it was either a four hour drive round trip (including fuel) or €50 on a train ticket. To be honest, both are obscene amounts of money for someone on a budget, so my last day in Salamanca was just me wandering around, taking in anything I'd missed during my first day. The climb to the top of the cathedral provided some spectacular views, for example.

Granada to Salamanca was a long drive, but Salamanca to Zaragoza wasn't easy either, particularly as, during to parking issues, I chose to park at the airport .as I'd read parking in Zaragoza was difficult at best. It was also my first stay in a proper hotel since Oviedo, and though a little quirky, it was in the heart of the city and well worth the price.

I had some company for my first night as a friend from London was in the city as he'd been in Madrid for the Champions League final. We enjoyed a few drinks together, and as he'd spent time wandering around himself, he had plenty of good ideas. I spent two days in Zaragoza just taking in nearly every sight possible. There are a tonne of Roman ruins to see, including a theatre and baths. The cathedral and basilica are also worth checking out, and you'll definitely spend some time wandering those. Other than that, simply wandering the streets of the old town will reveal some secrets. I visited in 2004 and noticed quite the change, particularly in the amount of English spoken!

I knew it was almost my last night in Spain, having enjoyed the relatively cheap prices compared to France (and upcoming with Italy) so spent a last night in a bar, watching England v Netherlands with a few English guys who were doing their own European trip.

My overall thoughts of Spain:

Beautiful country. Friendly people. More English spoken than I expected. Plenty of free motorways, and all roads are in pretty good condition. Every city I visited had plenty on offer, and more Roman ruins than I thought there would be. Don't like paying for cathedral entry, though when you compare the state of those in Spain to France, I guess that explains why (though then there was the French revolution...) I'll never tire of eating tapas, and barely ate a proper meal while I was there. Beer is ridiculously cheap at times.

Andorra is a tiny country nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains. The only country whose official language is Catalan. And it is absolutely gorgeous.

The drive from Zaragoza was simple and provided an absolute tonne of scenic views. Entering Andorra was rather amusing, having read I could be stopped on the way, but the guy at the gate barely looked at me as he waved me on. I would have thought driving a UK car would have provoked at least some sort of reaction!

I'd booked a hotel for my two nights in Andorra, a village called Santa Coloma, which is a brisk walk away from Andorra la Vella. And, as I only had one full day in the country, I decided to book myself a tour. My first night of two was spent enjoying a couple of beers in the very tiny old town, but having read one or two horror stories, I was pleased to see the price of beer was roughly the same as Spain.

The tour I booked took our group north of Andorra la Vella into the mountains. Given the country is tiny, it wasn't a long bus ride to the first stop, a museum dedicated to Russian dolls! Rather amusing, but apparently it's a private collection, unrivalled outside of Russia. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but it was impressive even if unexpected. But the tour was mostly about hiking the wilderness, and though we did take in an old church or some other sight here and there, most of our tour was spent hiking. The one sound I remember is of running water, and the water in Andorra is some of the best I've had to drink...

Also made a friend during the tour, and she proved rather helpful translating, given our group spoke Catalan, Spanish, French and I was the lone English speaker. After the tour, I met up for a few drinks with my new friend at the same bar I'd been before, and we must have spent a good few hours chatting away, sharing life stories, mostly about our travelling, and I was left impressed by her breadth of knowledge. She was quickly added to Facebook so we could keep in touch.

And that was the end of my trip to Iberia. Plenty of good memories made during the few weeks I spent travelling Spain and Portugal. Not sure I want to pick a favourite sight or city out of all those I did visit. Let's just say I wasn't left disappointed by most sights, and any disappointment felt was minor compared to the excitement of so many new cities to visit. It's little wonder so many people head to Spain, particularly at this time of year. Great weather. Beautiful cities. Friendly people. And, compared to some parts of Europe, relatively inexpensive. As for Andorra, if you love the outdoors, whether during summer or winter, just go. You'll love it.

But it was time to return to France. First stop, Toulouse.

Crap, I haven't spoken French since Bordeaux. Bet I end up speaking my meagre Spanish by accident...

Posted by benjamin2981 12:28 Archived in Spain Tagged hiking history alhambra spain granada roman avila zaragoza roman_ruins city_walls salamanca andorra guided_tour andorra_la_vella

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