A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

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 Comments (0)

Sevilla, Cadiz and Gilbraltar

Andalusia and the last time I'll be in an English speaking majority for... a few months!

sunny

Apologies for anyone following this, I've been on the road for over two weeks, didn't take my laptop, so I'll be writing the following just from photos taken and memories. I'll have another blog post up quite quickly, covering where I've just returned from. (I'm currently in a nice apartment in Granada...)

Anyway, my last post was regarding my quick adventure through Portugal. Thoroughly enjoyable, and it's somewhere I would like to spend more time in the future. Damn Schengen rules...

The drive from Sintra to Sevilla was the longest of the trip so far at 308 miles. That's just under 500 kilometres. Didn't do it all in one hit, though I only stopped for fuel and a quick drink before finishing the drive. Experienced the first really bad traffic of the trip so far. It sucked. I was delayed by a good half an hour, but that didn't particularly matter. My Airbnb wasn't exactly in the centre, though I knew that when booking it. Dos Hermanos is only a short metro ride away from the centre, and was convenient for me regarding my car, as there was ample parking. My hosts were fantastic as well. It was a husband and wife team. The husband didn't speak any English, though we managed to communicate through hand gestures, his wife spoke enough that we could communicate, and she was certainly very helpful regarding my stay.

My two days in Sevilla were spent pretty much just seeing all the sights possible. Of course, that meant the Plaza de Espana, the cathedral and the Alcazar, while I also participated in my first walking tour of the trip to get a better understanding, and also learn some tips from fellow travellers. I said it to people at the time, but Sevilla definitely goes into my top three beautiful cities, for the time being. The locals were friendly and accommodating, though it was also the first time I was surrounded by many fellow tourists. Sintra was busy, but Sevilla was something else. Crowds everywhere!

During my second evening, my Airbnb host organised an evening of flamenco. There are plenty of stories as to the origins of flamenco (is it actually Spanish or imported?) but that's an argument for another time. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed the ninety minute show, as did the people I was sharing the table with. Dancers would also perform on the street for tips, one such couple performing as I waited in line for the cathedral.

The weather had certainly warmed up during my trip through Portugal, and by the time I arrived in Cadiz, summer had almost arrived. Sevilla had been quite warm, so I was pleased to be by the ocean at least, my Airbnb only a stones throw away from the seven kilometre long seafront. I could see it was still just out of season, though, as I was told later the beach would be full of sunbathers or swimmers at the height of summer. While I was there? Not deserted but not the crowds one would expect.

I did my second walking tour during my first day, as although I'd done a little research on Cadiz, it wasn't an extensive as other places. Our guide, Mario, was brilliant, with plenty of funny stories regarding the history of Cadiz, and he more than earned his tip. Cadiz isn't a particularly large city, and although geared towards tourists, proven by the fact four cruise ships arrived while I was there, I think most come for sand, sea and surf rather than culture. Still, I managed to occupy myself for two days, finding a number of bars to enjoy a drink and tapas. The Champions League semi-finals were on during my time there, and I found I believe the only Liverpool supporter in Cadiz during my first night! The second night, I was in a different bar sat next to some Dutch guys as they watched their team lose in the last minute. I'm fairly sure they would have been drinking all night...

Again, it was only a short two day / three night stay before moving on again, my next destination Gibraltar.

I had to park my car on the opposite side of the border, as driving in Gibraltar isn't easy, and parking is non-existent for non-residents. And as I was leaving Schengen, I didn't want to return until I had to. That meant ensuring I had everything I needed in my bag before crossing the frontier. (Thankfully, I didn't forget anything!)

My first night in Gibraltar, again at an Airbnb, was again by myself. My hostess, Marie, was fantastic, enjoying a long chat upon arrival as she shares a real love of travel too. I spent my first full day in Gibraltar not doing a hell of a lot as I was waiting for a friend to arrive. Ryan flew in later that night, and after settling in, we headed out for a catch up drink.

The next day, we caught the cable car to the top of the Rock, taking in some of the spectacular views from the viewing platforms. It was a clear, sunny and hot day, and it's true, you can see Africa clearly. We then spent a few hours walking down the Rock (as others were running or walking up it for a charity event), stopping at a few sights along the way. One was an old battery, the gun still in place, which did give the best view of Africa. There were also some old tunnels, from various sieges and the two wars, a few memorials dedicated to various services, and also the remains of a Moorish castle from centuries ago. By the time we arrived at the bottom, we were both knackered so, after a wash back at the Airbnb, headed out from some dinner and drinks.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, we planned to do as little possible. It would be my first day of doing practically nothing since leaving, and I aimed to take advantage of it. The best idea was to head to the biggest sports bar in Gibraltar to watch the Formula One then the last day of the Premier League. The place was crowded, as expected, downing a few ciders in the sun. Once that was over, we had a bite to eat before heading back to shower, then returned to the very same place!

And that was the end of the European adventure, part one. On the Monday, we bid farewell to Gibraltar, loading up my car for the short drive to Tarifa. After parking up, we ended up having a rather torrid day. Firstly, we were told the ferry was delayed, unsure of when it would be sailing, and we were advised to head to Algeciras later the same day (having waited until noon for news!) We caught the bus there, only to be told upon arrival that ferries were now sailing for Tangier from Tarifa. So we had to hop a second bus back to Tarifa, eventually boarding the ferry around 5pm.

It would be a ninety minute sailing to Morocco, which will be covered in the next post.

Posted by benjamin2981 08:15 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches alcazar road_trip walking driving cadiz cathedral drinking old_city ferry old_town sevilla gibraltar flamenco the_rock Comments (0)

Travelling the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia

Bilbao, Oviedo and Santiago de Compestela. No, I wasn't doing the Camino...

all seasons in one day

Should probably write more often but... *shrugs*

After having a great time in Bordeaux, it was time to say 'au revoir' to France, at least for the time being, and head into country number two of this epic trip, Spain. I'd read a number of good things about Bilbao prior to arriving so wondered if not hoped expectations would meet reality. I hit my first minor problem upon entering Spain when my signal dropped out completely. Stupid old me didn't think about just restarting my phone until day two...

Anyway, my Airbnb was in a suburb of Bilbao called Sondika. A nice place though with no Wi-Fi! First time I've had that happen. My own fault, I obviously didn't check prior to booking, but it wasn't a major problem as I was only there to sleep. Sondika was only a short ten minute train trip into the centre itself, the only problem being I was in Bilbao during Easter Weekend, so for all three days I was there, it was a weekend timetable, meaning a train only ever half hour.

My first impressions of Bilbao, and of the Basque people, is one of a fiercely independent people, more than aware of the history between the Basque and central Spanish government over the decades. I had arrived not only over Easter but during an event called Basque Fest, basically a celebration of their culture, history and basically their nation. And there was not a Spanish flag in sight. Plus everything is in Basque first, then Spanish, and even English in the touristy parts. And that makes you think 'Some of these people would speak at the very least three languages!'

What do I remember most about my time in Bilbao? Two things. One, the Guggenheim Museum. Great building, full of interesting things. But I just don't get modern or contemporary art. Probably too stupid to understand it! Two, pintxos! (Tapas to the rest of Spain.) Any tavern, cafe or bar I walked into, the bar was lined with little snacks ready to be eaten. I didn't eat a meal the entire time I was in Bilbao, I survived on pintxos. And my Airbnb host, Gerard, informed me of a local drink called kalimotxo, which is a mix of red wine and cola. Tastes good and drank plenty of that too.

My first day, I walked 24km. My second day, not as much. I spent a lot of time in Casco Viejo, the old part of the city, in addition to wandering the banks of the estuary and basically checking out as much as I could. I thought Sunday would be a damp squib being Easter Sunday, but many things were still open. I did head to the main cathedral to watch the procession regarding the resurrection and I think there were more tourists there watching than natives. I also had the chance to ride my first funicular of the trip. If your city has one, I will find out about it, I will travel there, and I will ride it. Gave some stunning views of Bilbao, particularly as it was a bright sunny day.

I left Bilbao on Easter Monday, ready to head further east. My next port of call was a small city by the name of Oviedo, in Asturias. I'll be honest, there are only two reasons I picked Oviedo as a place to stay. One, it was about halfway between Bilbao and Santiago de Compestela, so a good place to take a break. And, two, I knew Fernando Alonso was from nearby.

I only spent two nights in Oviedo, so had treated myself to a bit of luxury in a four star hotel. It was a nice place, though I embarrassed myself upon arriving by forgetting everything is on the opposite side to my driving position, so missed the intercom and was stuck trying to enter the garage until someone arrived behind me to open the doors!

Oviedo is tiny so I didn't need more than a day anyway. The cathedral is definitely worth checking out, though as usual, the audioguide could drag on a bit at times. There were some other nice buildings around definitely worth checking out, but I'm delaying what I really want to talk about.

Sidra!

It's not just the sidra itself, which is an utter joy to drink. No, it's the way they pour it. Never seen anything so entertaining, but apparently there is a good reason for the way they do it, as it releases all the flavour. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I enjoyed a few bottles while I was there. And it was cheap! A 700ml bottle never cost me more then €3. In fact, Spain in general has proven much cheaper than France. Expected, of course, but not to the difference I've noticed so far. I had lunch during my only full day there, including a local dish, Fabada Asturiana, which is a bean soup with some pork and chorizo, some tapas and a beer for only €12!

I'm glad I did stay in Oviedo, though didn't need more than a day. However, while I was there, I signed up on an app called blablacar. Basically I place an ad saying I'm driving from place to place and if anyone wants a lift, they can send me a message. From Oviedo to Santiago, I had a passenger, Portuguese guy named Rui. We must have talked nearly the entire way and it certainly helped pass the time. I won't do it all the time, particularly as I'm aware it's not popular all over Europe, but it's something I'll definitely offer from time to time.

Anyway, next stop was four nights in Santiago de Compostela. After dropping Rui at the bus station, my Airbnb was literally a two minute drive away. But I noticed immediately that parking would be difficult. No chance of finding a spot outside the apartment. Eventually found one a couple of streets away, and I knew then and there that I wouldn't be using my car again until I left. The host's contact, Esther, was very friendly and helpful, and we managed to communicate through my lack of any real Spanish. It had been a long old grind since leaving Calais so, I'll admit, that night, I grabbed some Domino's from a shop barely a few metres away and took it easy.

I had three full days to fill. The first day was Santiago itself. Unfortunately, though I've had a few overcast or cold days, this was the first day where it rained. And it pretty much drizzled all day. The tourist office was helpful as always, giving me plenty of tips on what to see and do. Despite being small, I found myself doing quite a lot of walking. The cathedral was my first real disappointment as it was undergoing a lot of refurbishment, so nearly everything was covered up. But I found a couple of other churches that more than made up for it. But the one thing any visitor would notice would be all the pilgrims completing the Camino. Dozens and dozens of people enter the centre of the city with their backpacks and walking sticks. I talked with a few people who'd done it and they gave me plenty of advice if I ever thought of doing it myself. With all the walking I'm currently doing, I could see myself doing it in a few years... maybe...

Anyway, my second day was my first organised, or guided tour of my holiday. I don't plan on doing many of them, but my original plan was to drive to Fisterra. I'm glad I didn't, as the tour I participated in was fantastic. I'd met an Italian guy, Andrea, in a pub the previous evening, and he was on the same tour, finding myself chatting away with a few South Africans too, who had also completed the Camino. The tour took in some of the major sights of Galicia. We visited a Sanctuary in Muxia, St. Mary of the Boats, and the church was right on the shores of the Atlantic. Next was Fisterra, and I'm glad I didn't do it alone, otherwise I'd have just driven there, taken a few photos', grabbed a magnet, and headed back to Santiago. After that was a waterfall in Dumbria, though we couldn't get too close due to construction. before stopping for lunch in Muros. Andrea and I shared a massive portion of monkfish and clams. Never had either before, and it was clear the food was fresh. Very tasty. Last stop was Ponte Maceira, a stones throw away from Santiago, where we took a few photos and walked across a 12th century bridge. It was quite an enjoyable day and well worth the price.

My third day was a bus trip to Lugo. I paid less than €15 for a return ticket, though it did require me rising bloody early. At least the bus trip to and from was uneventful, though I wouldn't call it scenic, as the bus mostly followed the motorways, though we did go through A Coruna. The Roman walls surrounding Lugo old town were nearly as good as I expected. I'll admit, I was expecting a bit more sandstone or something, but I walked along their entire length, getting some nice shots of the walls and the old town. I then spent a couple of hours walking along nearly every street within the walls, having a spot of lunch in the early afternoon, before enjoying a couple of beers in the afternoon sun waiting for my bus. I had my first instance of being served by someone who didn't know any English at all. Thank Odin for Google translate!

And as quickly as it began, my trip in Spain was over, albeit only temporarily. Next stop, country number three, Portugal!

Posted by benjamin2981 11:53 Archived in Spain Tagged road_trip walking history driving cathedral tour galicia pilgrims oviedo bilbao camino asturias basque_country santiago_de_compestela bilbao_fest guided_tour bus_trip Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]