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Spainpacking

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Choosing what we took with us on our road trip around Andalucia was determined by several factors.

There was the little matter of the size of hand luggage bags on RyanAir… some 5cm less on the depth of the bag compared to other airlines we’ve flown with since we bought our Osprey Farpoint 40 packs.

There were other considerations – the differing types of accommodation, the need to cover up in some of the places visited (Seville’s Cathedral and Mezequita in Cordoba) and expected weather conditions after looking at ten day forecasts (warm to hot during the day, cool on a night were among our expectations).

Pack size rules were adhered to as we chose items that could be washed and worn, used as layering pieces for cooler nights and we also packed long sleeved shirts for when we  visited places that required arms to covered.

So, how did we stick to around 7.5kg each in the hand luggage?

My North Face hooded soft shell has now bitten the dust, but it was worn on the plane rather than packed. It looked a bit worse for wear, but it has seen some action and has been proofed a few times to provide extra protection.

It had deep zipped pockets that took an iPad Mini, the Lonely Planet guidebook, my Nikon camera and the old Samsung dumbass phone when going through security, passport control and checks at the boarding gate.

The power adaptors for the tech mentioned above were in an IKEA pouch that, along with my wash bag, could be easily pulled out of the Farpoint for security checking and then pushed back in with the clothes, travel towels, booking printouts, bus tickets and meds.

Clothing included the usual mix of Rohan items – two pairs of Goa trousers, a Microgrid Crew Jumper, three Progress polos, two long sleeved polos, a few pairs of Cool Silver Trunks and some M&S Freshfeet trainer socks.

Worn items included that TNF soft shell, a Rohan Stronghold shirt, a Rohan Merino wool based t-shirt and another pair of Goa trousers. On the feet were ventilated Salomon trainers, the only footwear I decided to take.

Caroline’s choices also included a mix of rapid wash/dry and wear items such as Rohan Ultra Silver Camisole tops and briefs, a couple of their vest tops, two Stria long sleeved tops, Rohan Travel Jeans, Travel Linen trousers plus a Pathway Cardigan and a Royal Robbins shirt/jacket.

Her footwear comprised a pair of Ecco pumps and Ecco Mary Jane shoes.

Did it all work? Yes is the answer because most items had been used on a few travel trips now or even on a day to day basis. Respective day bags were from Rohan’s Stowaway line-up (a pack for me, a handbag for Caroline)

And in the wash bags? Well both Caroline and I use shower gels by Lush on our travels and she’s also using their shampoo bars.

I also packed a small bottle of tea tree oil that was used when I shaved with a disposable razor whilst sample size toothpastes from our dentist came in handy. The ViaSonic battery toothbrush stayed the course, even though I’d forgotten to put a new AAA in it!

Other items in the wash bag included some travel wash to do the clothing wash and wear thing, a small Nivea SPF30 suncream, a bottle of clove oil and a tube of Bonjela (both in case of dental problems…).

With two out of the four choices of accommodations providing shower gel and shampoo in the bathroom/shower areas, the above choices only needed to be complemented by the local purchases of Axe (aka Lynx) body spray and packs of baby wipes to cope with the after effects of street food on the hands or melting ice cream hitting clothing.

Other things? My iPad Mini has the Kindle App on it and loads of books, so the iPad was used for reading rather than surfing whilst Caroline had her classic Kindle. Both of us had mobile phones too.

Mine was hardly used, whilst Caroline’s did see some action as family members called or sent texts to her.

Did our packing choices work? Yes has to be the answer, even though there was more rain than we anticipated in Malaga. We sat that out in a hotel foyer until it was almost time to get a cab and head down to the bus station for our journey to Seville.

The coolest nights were those in Granada, but the layering choices worked to keep us warm as we wandered around in search of food. My only regret was not having another pair of shoes, but as plans to buy an extra pair failed due to cost issues, I didn’t worry too much about that.

Granada II

Where were we? Oh yes…

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 Kindleapp. 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…

Caroline had taken a wrong turn and had ended up outside the entrance to the Alhambra complex. She’d also misplaced her ticket too, so she couldn’t get back in to come and find me.

We did find each other once I’d booted up my phone and a spot of shopping in the Alhambra souvenir shop was called for and then a coffee and cake stop back down in the city centre.

We’d spotted Cafe Lisboa earlier in the day, our order was taken and coffee and some rather cake was delivered to our table. As we’d been out for nine hours, we headed back up to White Nest for a siesta, shower and change and then a search for an evening meal.

There were a few places open on our last night in Granada, but we wanted a change from tapas or even shared dishes like those served in the Moroccan place the night before.

An Italian restaurant was spotted and food and drink was duly ordered. I’d love to tell you the name of the place, but the receipt was misplaced and it wasn’t in a guidebook, but the food, drink, desserts and coffee all hit the spot.

There was once place left to go though on our way back to our room. I’d misplaced the bag containing the things I’d bought at the Alhambra shop and there was only once place it could be – Cafe Lisboa.

It took a while to get myself understood, but it was there and was handed over. As we left, a pact was made with Caroline. If we needed second breakfasts the following morning, I was buying and we’d have our second breakfasts down at Cafe Lisboa.

The mini market around the corner provided us with some soft drinks, bottled water and a bar of chocolate before we headed back to do some reading and then chase some zzzzs.

Although we were up early and packed, we didn’t have to check out until much later, so we wandered down to White Nest’s dining room and found that yes, the breakfast choices were limited again (White Nest to their credit did post a reply to my review on booking.com which apologised for the limited breakfast fodder due to the school group).

So there was only one thing for it – down to Cafe Lisboa for second breakfasts! Coffee and croissants were ordered and duly arrived – but the croissants were huge, and just as good in their own way as the pieces of cake we’d had the day before.

It wasn’t just the croissants that were huge. An American family with a father who looked like he went to the same barber as Gibbs from NCIS had ordered a cooked breakfast and it looked like the size of that cooked breakfast had defeated them.

As we still had time on our hands, some shopping time was called for, but we also needed a cash machine as the two of us needed a few more € to cover any purchases in Granada, in Malaga the following day and any final snacks or drinks in the airport before the flight home.

As Caroline wandered around one shop looking for things to take home for her grandchildren, I picked up one item and could hear Caroline groan in the distances as I walked to the cash desk with a blue and white plush bull.

The groan turned to a longer groan and an extended eye roll when I pushed the plush in the right place and a bull sound came from within the toy’s innards… Nothing was said though, either by Caroline or the lady taking my cash to pay for the blue and white bull.

It was now approaching check-out time, so we headed back, picked up our bags and wandered down to the nearest taxi rank to get a cab back to the bus station.

Yes, it wasn’t something we’d normally do, but as we’d noticed that it wasn’t a straightforward route to the bus station, it would save us a whole lot of time.

Lunch that day came courtesy of Aldi. Their store was just a few hundred metres away from the bus station, so that was the stop of choice for both food and drinks for both lunch and the bus ride to Malaga.

Coffee levels were topped up in the bus station cafe though, but when I bought a beer too, there was a small tapas plate as part of the deal. We’d heard about the free tapas plates in Granada, but this was the one and only time we’d experienced the custom.

Apparently it’s the thing to do in Granada – buy a beer in a bar and you get free food. For those without beer intake limits, it’s a bonus, especially if you’re on a bar crawl, but for those like myself who are on beer intake limits, it’s an interesting snack attack.

When the bus arrived and we headed inside, we swapped notes and agreed that we’d use buses again on our next trip around Andalucia.

Yes, the bookings had been done a few months before we travelled as a means of saving money, but we’d been impressed by the comfort levels and the on time nature of the journeys, even though we hadn’t been on the best buses on the fleet or had paid full whack for the four bus rides we’d been on.

On Saturday – Malaga in festival mode and time to go home…

Father’s Day in Cordoba…

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Another day, another queue!

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It did fill up, honest!

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No, not a queue, just a party heading for the gardens

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One of many vistas in those gardens

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Columbus, Fernando and Isabel. Fernando wasn’t hearing the drums…

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More of the gardens.

After finding our way around Cordoba without an Apple Map on Saturday night, we had a fair idea of where we were going on Sunday morning.

The breakfast at Hotel Serrano was OK, but the coffee and non-serrano ham left a bit to be desired.

Something Caroline noticed though was a couple of blokes adding four sugar sachets to their glasses of orange juice. Yes, we like sweets and chocolate, but neither of us have taken sugar in tea or coffee for years (it’s over forty since I last put sugar in tea or coffee).

I can still remember my reaction when I’d been given the wrong cup of tea at work a few years ago (Hi Carole!) and a cup of sugared Nescafe in Cyprus ten years ago, so putting sugar in orange juice was definitely a no-no!

Anyway, the coffee in the hotel ensured that we had a cafe stop on our way to the  historic part of CordobaMezquita was open for services on a Sunday morning, so we decided to head there in the afternoon once we’d been to Cordoba’s Alcazar and had lunch.

Yes there was a queue to get into Alcazar de los Reynes Cristianos (to give it its full name) and guess who was in that queue? The couple who had been decidedly frosty in the restaurant we’d eaten in on Saturday night…

Although there were rooms to see in Fortress of Christian Monarchs, the main attractions on this bright and sunny day were the gardens.

Which were busy as families were out to celebrate Father’s Day.

Once away from the entrance to the garden complex, there were ample opportunities to just wander around and admire the gardens, fountains, flowers, shaped trees and what looked like giant stone chess pieces placed on top of plinths. They were in fact depicting the Spanish Royals meeting Christopher Columbus at the Fortress back in 1486.

Our wanderings were tempered by a few opportunities to sit down, top up the fluid levels from our water bottles and top up the sun protection from pocket packs of Nivea SPF 30 sun cream.

After a while though, our thoughts turned to Sunday lunch. No, not roast and veg style, just something more in keeping with the surroundings.

The Father’s Day crowds ensured that most places were full – even Burger King. A short beer stop quenched the thirst and we headed off and found a place that looked inviting and had plenty of covered seating.

We sat down at one table and were promptly moved to another. Choices were made from the menu, but a brusque waiter made it plain that we couldn’t have tapas, so I made do with a bowl of gazpacho soup and pondered the word on the wall outside the restaurant’s front entrance.

Tapas.

With food and drinks consumed, we asked for the bill. The requested bottle of water hadn’t turned up and wasn’t on the bill, but the unasked for (and not consumed) bread basket was.

Given the brusqueness of the waiter, I ended up querying the bill with just one word using the inflection of Manuel from Fawlty Towers

“Que?”

I reverted to English to explain that we hadn’t ordered or eaten any bread, so the waitress went inside and brought us a new bill that was bread-free and a few € less than the original.

As Mezquita didn’t open until 3pm on a Sunday, we still had plenty of time to wander around some more, so a beer break was called and followed by an ice cream break. With the electronic ticket machines labelled as being out of action, we had to join the queue to get tickets. Once bought, the law of sod was invoked once more as guess what happened?

Those out of action labels were taken off those ticket machines…

As we made our way to the entrance queue proper, we did notice an interesting example of Girl Power as a couple of armed police officers were stationed nearby.

And it wasn’t the bloke who was toting the machine gun…

More tomorrow!

Bye, bye Seville, hello Cordoba!

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After one last tapas meal at The Seven Bull’s Heads

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Queuing for the Alcazar? That was so yesterday!

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Time for breakfast…

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We’ll be back…

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Seville’s bullring – we gave it a miss

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Cordoba by night, and yes, that’s Mezquita in the floodlights

If it’s Saturday, it must be the day to move on.

We’d enjoyed our few days in Seville and another good night in a tapas bar, but it was time to find breakfast and then the bus station so we could make our way to Cordoba.

One of the topics discussed during our previous night’s meal was whether we’d go back to Seville on another trip. As ‘Yes’ was the answer to that one, I suspect that we’ll have another night or more in Bar Pelayo (the real name of The Seven Bull’s Heads), more time wandering around the Alcazar and more of those posh ice creams we had on our first full day in Seville.

And more breakfasts in Taberna El Papelon.

We will however look for another place to stay as we weren’t overly keen on the pension that I’d booked us into. Where will we go? I suspect that there may be some consulting of guidebooks and asking questions on travel forums as well as a closer perusal of the comments made on various accommodation finding sites.

The walk to the bus station gave us a chance to stretch our legs before hitting the bus station and getting the bus to Cordoba. This was the most expensive bus ride on the road trip, but as it was a Saturday and we’d got bargain tickets for other journeys we had, we weren’t complaining.

Until we got to Cordoba. Exiting the bus station and finding our way out onto the main road via the railway station was the easy part.

Following the printouts from Apple Maps wasn’t…

We’d got into the right street, but could we heck as like find the street that Hotel Serrano was on. We walked, we looked and we walked some more, but it wasn’t until around 30 minutes later did we realise that we’d missed it, so we backtracked, found it and headed in.

After getting up to our room, there a plan was hatched. Shower and change, do the clothes washing that we needed to do and then head out to stretch our legs once more and find a drink or two.

That set us up quite nicely for the evening. Once the siesta was out of the way, it was time to head out and see what was out there.

Darkness had fallen, and as we headed out, we decided that we were just going to go with the flow, so we did as a steady stream of people headed down towards the river.

Whilst we spotted a few likely places to eat, we headed down to and over Puente Romano. Whilst there was no luck finding an eating place on the other side of the river, we headed back into the centre, took a few photos and then spotted a sign regarding night tours of Mezquita.

We hadn’t heard about these, but a door opened to let some people in so we asked the lady at the door about the night tours, but this one was full.

We did find a restaurant eventually (at one point there was a running joke about having a romantic Saturday night meal in the branch of Burger King that we passed a couple of times), but we hit gold.

No notes were made and I’ve misplaced the receipt that bears the name of the restaurant we ate in, but it was cool (in more ways than one!), the food was good and so was the ambience – apart from the rather frosty faced couple we’d been seated next to…

Once fed and watered, it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep in readiness for what was going to be a fairly busy Sunday wandering around Cordoba, another Alcazar and the Mezquita.

On the Spanish version of Father’s Day

More tomorrow!

Alcazar…

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The Alcazar of Seville

The Alcazar of Seville was one of those places that sprang out from the pages of the guidebooks as we planned this particular road trip.

We’d put off visiting for a couple of days, largely because every time we passed the entrance, there were queues.

As Friday was our last full day in Seville, we couldn’t put off visiting any longer, so it was up early, shower, dress and head for breakfast before joining the queue to get in.

When we reached the front, we realised why there was a queue to get into this World Heritage Site – airport style security with both walk-through body scanners and x-ray machines to examine the contents of day bags, hand bags and camera pouches.

There’s plenty of buildings to wander around, but there are also some impressive gardens to walk around. I’m not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination, but even I was impressed but the way in which the gardens were planted, laid out and kept spick and span as people entered and gradually dispersed themselves around the numerous arrays of plants, lawns, ornaments and fountains.

Words can’t really do justice to what we saw during our time in the Alcazar (Lonely Planet’s Andalusia guide devotes almost two pages to describing the complex), so here’s a few pictures selected at random from those taken as we wandered around…

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After a few hours in the Alcazar, it was time for refreshment and a chance to rest our feet. The cafe was rather busy and customers were being treated to grand displays of feathers from an obliging local peacock. Who stopped when I got my camera ready….

If you are every in Seville, you really must bite the bullet and join that queue at the Alcazar. Words can’t really describe it as there is so much to take in as you wander around the buildings and the grounds.

Although the complex is right in the centre of Seville and is bordered by main roads, it’s very peaceful and the only audible intrusions came from the sounds of sirens on a couple of emergency service vehicles as they headed off to do their stuff.

Yes, there were quite a few people visiting the Alcazar on the day of our visit, but once we’d left the buildings and the start of the garden area behind, we had sections of the gardens to ourselves and weren’t being bothered by selfie stick toting phone owners.

We’ve already said that we are going to go back to Seville for another visit and that will be including return visits to the Alcazar because this was one enjoyable way of spending a day just wandering around on our own and exploring the site without a guide or a guidebook.

And without a tour guide marching us around in record breaking time in order to get the party back on the bus to get to the next stop along the way!

Next up – Cordoba!

No pics, just words…

If it’s Thursday, then it’s time to get thee to a flamenco club.

Now we’d seen what the admission charges were for some of the flamenco shows, but we’d heard about a club in one of the back streets when reading a Kindle book on Seville (Seville for Free 2016 by Lynne Knightly) before we headed off.

The same club – La Carboneria – was also recommended to us by the owner of the pension we were staying in as being one of the best places to go – and he was right.

My earlier confusion in trying to find the club was understandable as we’d found out after seeing that notice near the original entrance on Calle Levies which pointed in the direction of the new entrance a few hundred metres away on Cespedes.

As we’d taken our time over the tapas, we arrived at La Carboneria around 9.30pm and wandered in.

The club was already busy, and there weren’t any seats to be had. So beer beckoned and a couple of camas of Alhambra ordered in my best Spanish (I was getting the hang of it, honest!).

At €2 per glass, it wasn’t going to break the bank, but one guy standing next to me came rather unstuck when he came to pay as he presented a card to pay for his drinks. The problem he faced? No cards, so he was given directions to the nearest ATM…

There was a sense of deja vu as I looked around La Carboneria as it brought back memories of heading out to clubs to see bands in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Unlike Riverside in Newcastle-upon-TyneLa Carboneria wasn’t a standing venue as there were long tables and benches on the lower and upper levels of the club.

The audience was a good mix though – old, young and of different ethnic backgrounds too (very reminiscent of those attending gigs at the Harambe Africa festival). You could spot the tour parties though – students with one eye on their friends and the other on the screens of their respective mobile phones.

The music started around 10pm though. Guitars first and then the essential combination of guitars and dancer.

Whilst there were two musicians, there was only one dancer, but was there passion in the dancing? Oh yes…

From where we were standing, we could only see the hand movements and the facial expressions, but there was so much intensity in those movements and expressions that seeing the feet moving wasn’t necessary.

As the intensity rose, the dancer’s hair started to move too and it wasn’t long before hair was falling into the dancer’s face.

Fortunately that happened on the last song/dance of that particular set. That passion contented as the night wore on in the other two sets we witnessed from the same players and dancer.

As the night wore on though, we became conscious that we’d been up for a long time and that as good as the night was, we really did need some sleep, especially as we had a long, good Friday planned.

It was to be our last full day in Seville and there was a lot to do, especially as we had planned on an early start to get in the queue to take a look around Seville’s Alcazar.

More on Monday!

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!