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Alhambra…

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I make no apology for making this more of a picture based post regarding our visit to the Alhambra Palace.

So much has been written about Granada’s World Heritage Site by those who know more than I do (Rough Guide Andalucia devotes @ six pages including maps and photos to the site, as does Lonely Planet Andalucia).

Our visit to Alhambra was booked back in January 2017, and yes, that was a wise move as the Sold Out signs were already posted when we collected our pre-booked tickets around 9.15am.

As our allocated time to enter Palacios Nazaries wasn’t for another couple of hours, we had time to wander over towards it, taking in the gardens, and second breakfasts too.

Whilst we’d had a spot of breakfast back at White Nest Hostel, there wasn’t much of it about thanks to the school or college party that had almost cleaned out the breakfast buffet selection.

A couple of bread rolls with marmalade and a cup of coffee weren’t going to set us up for the day, so coffee and a vending machine snack topped up the energy levels enough to last us until lunchtime.

Although I’d visited Alhambra back in 1999, there were only a few parts that I remembered seeing on that visit. With so much to see and take in, we took things nice and slow in the run up to joining the queue in readiness for our slot to get into Palacios Nazaries.

After queuing for a while and a bag check, we joined those starting to wend their way around the complex. We did hang back a bit because we’d noticed the amount of people who were wanting to photograph everything and then take selfies of themselves against the same views or interiors.

Taking things slowly had its advantages. We saw more than those doing Roadrunner impressions and had time to take things in. There were a couple of times when we couldn’t get into certain rooms, but we just held back a bit and got in when things were quieter.

We eventually exited the buildings and started to wander around the multi-level gardens adjacent to Palacios Nazaries for a while before hunger hit once more and lunch was declared.

Whilst we gave the vending machine coffee a miss this time, another machine served up not one, but two packs of sandwiches. Coffee came from the hut near the entrance to the Alcazaba fortress this time – good coffee, and rather strong too…

Once the coffee was downed, we entered the one way system in the Alcazaba, got the cameras out and then explored the fortress. I got told off for sitting on a wall rather than a bench, but once I’d found a proper seat, I could see that the wall was a bit older than the concrete I’d been sitting on at the top of it was older than I’d realised.

As Caroline and I made our way over to the Generalife and Summer Palace, my left leg started playing up thanks to some post-stroke muscle trouble, so I sat down to relax and do some reading.

Caroline headed off towards the Generalife and Summer Palace and I got more and more engrossed in the book I was reading on my iPad’s Kindle app. My phone was off as usual, but on checking my watch, I realised that I hadn’t seen Caroline for quite a while.

So the phone was booted up and I found that there’d been a missed call, a voicemail message and several texts in the last quarter of an hour…

More tomorrow!

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Now, where were we?

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Giralda, Seville Catherdral

Ah, yes, we were talking about Seville.

After a spot of mooching around the city centre and stumbling across the Metropol Parasol on our first day in Seville, the second had some loose organisation about it.

The stroll to Taberna Papelon ensured that we were ready for breakfast. We managed to make ourselves understood once more as we ordered coffee, croissants and orange juice and then more coffee before we headed off to join the queue of those visiting the Cathedral.

Rough Guide Andalucia uses this quote about the Cathedral  – “a building on so magnificent a scale that posterity will believe we were mad”.

In other words it’s huge. Bigly huge…

Although we joined the queue around 10am, the opening time isn’t until 11am, so we waited, drank water, talked and then shuffled forward as those at the front bought their tickets and entered.

Once at the front, Caroline and I went our separate ways. Caroline into the cathedral and I for a wander around to try and find a tapas bar and a flamenco club that the owner of the pension recommended. And more coffee.

Finding coffee and tapas bar – easy. Finding that flamenco club wasn’t.

My mooch around gave me the chance to take a few photos, but also ensured a few close encounters with those selling bunches of heather or the drivers of the horse drawn carriages that were doing steady business in taking other tourists around the city centre.

After a while, it was time to head back to the square that Caroline and I had arranged to meet in. I wasn’t surprised that the monument in the middle of the square had been taken over by a couple of school parties, but I found somewhere  to sit, wait and have more water as it was the middle of the day and the temperatures were rising.

Finding lunch and swapping comments about what we’d seen so far that day was a good idea, so a snack lunch plus a small beer at a street cafe (of which there are many in Seville) was sought, bought and consumed.

Caroline confirmed the scale of the Cathedral, and commented on the Giralda Tower, one of the minarets of the mosque that occupied the site before the Cathedral was built.

Caroline also commented on the intense nature of various parts of the Cathedral and the art or sculptures on display. Not my cup of tea at all, and one of the reasons why I wasn’t really bothered about heading through those large doors at the entrance…

With lunch out of the way, it was time for more leg stretching, this time in a small market in  a park before an unscheduled wander across the street into the El Cortes Ingles department store.

My camera’s SD card was full, and the one in the camera pouch wasn’t a new one – it was also full. The store’s photographic section was easily found and a 16gb SD card sourced, paid for and installed.

It was only when we got back to the pension that I found that new empty SD card – in the pouch used to store my power & plug adaptors. D’oh!!!

After a fairly full day of wandering around, a short siesta beckoned, but as we wandered back to the pension from El Cortes Ingles, guess what we found?

A laminated card indicating where that flamenco club was. As it was 5pm and the club didn’t open until around 9pm, there was time for a siesta, wash & change and tapas before we had a good night out at the flamenco club.

A night in a live music club at a total cost of €8 for the two of us including beer money?

You’d better believe it – more tomorrow!

Hola – plans v reality…

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We knew there would be rain in Spain one day… Just not this much!

The planning for our trip to Andalucia started a while ago.

The initial thinking was to head over there in October 2016, but thoughts changed and we ended up visiting Herefordshire and Somerset.

The thinking started again back in November 2016 and a simple plan was drawn up – fly in and out of Malaga from either Leeds/Bradford or Manchester airports and take a look at the Picasso and other art connections in Malaga before heading to Seville, Cordoba and Granada and then head back to Malaga for the flight home.

This was expanded upon by getting hold of both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide paper guidebooks to Andalucia. Although I’d already taken a read through the LP and RG books on Spain, the area specific guides provided more insights to the cities we were intent on visiting and useful snippets regarding travelling times between cities by bus or train, eating out, flamenco and a few tips on speaking Spanish.

Flights and our hotel in Malaga were booked via Expedia whilst digs in Seville, Cordoba and Granada were booked via booking.com.

All of this happened back in November 2016, as did upgrades to the basic flights as we chose to pre-book seats on the plane in both directions and opt for priority boarding.

Yes, this put the price of the flights up, but we reckoned it was worth it as a means of getting settled in to our seats and as a means of ensuring that our hand luggage wasn’t stashed in the hold instead…

The decision to use buses rather than trains in Spain came down to two factors – cost and journey times (which in one or two cases quoted in the guidebooks were shorter on the bus rather than the train…).

Booking the buses was left until January and it has to be said that booking buses between Malaga and Seville, Seville and Cordoba along with Cordoba to Granada was pretty easy via the http://www.alsa.es website.

A problem did arise when it came to book the journey between Granada and Malaga. My UK bank card had been used for the first three transactions, but wasn’t being accepted for the one that would take us back to Malaga in readiness for the flight home.

Technology being what it is, a web chat was established with Alsa and it transpired that I should have used a Spanish bank card or PayPal for all of my ticket buying transactions!

As the first three sales had gone through without any difficulties and I had both printed off the online tickets and the ones sent to my email address, I decided to press on for the fourth transaction and book it via PayPal.

The problem being that I hadn’t used PayPal for years and couldn’t remember what my password was. That took a bit of time to resolve, but hey presto! That last set of tickets was bought, paid for and printed off…

With all of the flight, accommodation and almost all of the internal travel sorted out, there was a couple of things left to do – book tickets for our visit to The Alhambra in Granada and sort out transport to Manchester Airport.

Tickets were easily booked and paid for via The Alhambra’s website and that was almost it.

Next up was the booking of rail tickets and we almost came unstuck.

We were travelling on a weekend when there was planned maintenance on the railway line. Although the website showed this, it didn’t tell us the full nature of the replacement bus service operating on our day of travel.

After three attempts at finding out, it was time to jump in the car, head to a mainline station and ask questions. Once answered and the printouts handed over, the tickets were bought and paid for and that was it for two months.

When March came around, all we had to do was get some notes, check the mid-range weather forecast and go…

There was however one small problem left – neither of us speak Spanish!

The right guide?

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Which guide is the right guide for you?

There’s a whole lot of reading going on, largely because the weather around wisepacking towers is not that condusive to heading out, no matter what clothing/footwear is being used at the time…

There’s four paper guidebooks and two language helpers on the desk in readiness for our next trip and a new one on the Kindle section of my iPad too (this one’s a brand new revision of an existing title and I haven’t as yet found anyone selling the new paper version…).

The four on the desk are from Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness whilst the new Kindle on the iPad is a Pocket Rough Guide.

Why four books and why are they from different publishers?

That’s all to do with getting a more rounded picture of the places we’re going to as each has its own take on the cities and what there is to see and do. As you can see from the above photo, there’s a lot to be said for hanging onto old editions of guidebooks as these can provide further information as certain stuff may be mentioned in one edition of said book, but not another, even though the sight or establishment is still operating….

These guides from the big names are being complemented by a set of city guides in Kindle format from the Atsons and Unanchored series of eBooks or those produced independently by the authors themselves..

Some have been paid for whilst others have been free downloads, but all are being read to get more information and yes, there have been some good tips that are being noted and stored for use on the ground when we hit the cities we’re going to as a means of ensuring that our euros go that little bit further by not resorting to big name eateries for drinks or snacks.

At the moment, all of the main guidebooks are providing good information in a very readable format, something that is a great improvement on our findings when researching the various trips to Portugal.

Rough Guides were our favourites on these trips in either full country or Snapshot/Pocket Rough Guide formats. These paper tomes were used in conjunction with info gleaned from Julie Dawn Fox’s books on Portugal and Porto along with tips from Julie’s website – https://juliedawnfox.com

You may wonder why I favour paper books over techno books…

1) Because paper books are easier to read on the hoof.

2) The indexing is usually much better in paper books.

3) They don’t require charging up at regular intervals.

4) They’re more discrete to look at when out and about.

5) Sections could be copied or cannibalised from the main book, especially if you’re going to one town, city or area for a few days or a couple of weeks.

No matter what the information in the books, the format or who the publisher is, there’s one aspect that’s never left out or forgotten about – using our eyes and ears to discover places, events or eateries.

We’ve spotted posters on noticeboards about museums, stumbled across eating places, taken river trips or found interesting shops by just following instincts and heading off in what turned out to be the right direction…

Although I’ve just bought that new Pocket Rough Guide for the iPad, it’s only going to be used as a guide on a forthcoming trip.

Although the booking has been done, what we do when we get there is largely going to be made up as we go along. There’s a couple of daft ideas floating around, but whether they come to fruition is another matter…

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Not in a guidebook, but the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum was found after seeing a poster on the wall at a campsite washing up area…

Deals, or no deals?

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Somewhere in Europe… but we’re going to the country next door!

It’s Black Friday and despite all of the emails, television coverage and advertising, we have proved that resistance isn’t futile.

Yes, there is money to be spent today, but that’s going to be at the farm shop, newsagent, supermarket and petrol station.

I’ve had deal information on hotel bookings, electrical stuff and a load of other gubbins, but most of it has come in far too late for yours truly.

And that because the deed is done – the next trip has been planned, largely booked and paid for because I found our own deals for our visit to Andalucia by delving into the search engines of Skyscanner, Expedia and Booking.com last week.

The end result is a trip that’s a day longer than originally planned so we can make full use of our time in Spain and one that is currently running under budget, despite that extra day!.

Although a fair bit of research had been carried out using both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books on Andalucia and Spain, the time taken to book the flights, overnights and the bus travel between the destinations on our trip took a little over 24 hours.

Whilst that 24 hours also includes sleeping, eating and the other things that make up a day, it also reflects that there’s been some due diligence in checking out the various elements being used to put the trip together.

The flights we’ve chosen aren’t at silly times of the day or night (but there was a £46 premium paid for choosing our own seats and taking advantage of an ‘offer’ on priority boarding).

The hotels, guest houses and hostels we’re using are all highly rated whilst the bus travel is more cost effective than using trains – the only time we’ve paid full price for a bus ride is for our travel between Seville and Cordoba, largely because that journey is on a Saturday and no discounts are available.

With airport transfers being paid on the ground when we get to Spain, all we have left to book in advance now are the rail tickets to Manchester Airport (cheaper to get to by rail than it is to drive and park the car for the duration) and for two tickets for the Alhambra in Granada.

Will we do these bookings on Cyber Monday?

Might do…

No brainers…

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Sometimes you just have to roll the dice to see this…

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Or this…

One of the ‘joys’ of looking at travel forums on a regular basis is spotting the number of posters who have done their research using guidebooks, Google, Yahoo, Bing or even travelogues to plan, loosely plan or even not plan their break, holiday or journey.

There are some who want fellow forum users to suggest where they should go or even plan out their trip for them.

Others want so much validation for their plans that by the time they’ve made multiple posts on a similar theme that forum members either ignore them or become sarcastic after offering the same advice again and again and again.

Those who haven’t done their research are easy to spot because they’re so vague in their requests for places to go or for someone to do their planning for them that they can’t even be bothered to include basic information such as their budget, their time frame, their interests or passions or whether they have specific dietary needs or accommodation preferences.

And the usual answer to this lot?

Suggestions to buy at least one guidebook for where they’re going – my response is normally to get hold of both a Lonely Planet guidebook AND a Rough Guide book to whatever country or area they’re visiting or to point them in the direction of either the forum’s own search function or the search engines mentioned above.

There isn’t any excuse for such laziness when you’re heading off somewhere. It’s your trip and I take the view that it’s up to you to do due diligence and do your own research into where you’re going.

Do the research and you have a good idea about what to expect.

Don’t do the research or let others point you towards sights, places, areas or countries and there’s a fairly good probability that the brown stuff could hit the fan, leaving you to scream and scream and scream when in fact there’s only one person to blame…

You!

At the other end of the scale are those who plan everything to the nth degree and want so much validation that they become a pain in the butt…

Even when they’ve been told by several posters that the weather may not be in their favour, that their choice of clothing for walking is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, or that they should loosen up, relax and go with the flow rather than ticking off every box on their long list of things to see and do.

Then there’s the lot who want to see as much of an area, country or even Europe in a few days rather than taking time to immerse oneself in one area or just one country as a means of exploring what’s on offer.

To those posters, I’ll invoke memories of a popular 1980’s t-shirt slogan:

“Frankie says RELAX!”

Don’t do it…