Sylvia & Trevor - proud members of the SKI Club (Spending the Kids' Inheritance)

Back to the beginning - the final chapter in Barcelona

After the kerfuffle with our previous booking at the 'Love Hotel' we finally managed to get a booking at Cuitat del Prat, near the airport.  Not the best location, but it had a pool and was only a 20-minute bus-ride into Barcelona City, and a 10-minute drive to the beaches at Castelldefels, so it was a good compromise.  The hotel was good, but they were not happy with us when we arrived, as I'd used my Qantas cashcard to secure the booking through, and there was not enough money left in the account, even though we weren't supposed to pay until we got there - as a result the receptionist was a little unhappy with us and we had to pay cash upfront before we could check in.  Anyway, we had nice rooms in which to spend our last 4 days in the country, and parking was free, so that was a bonus.

The area we were in was where 'real people' lived and worked, and there were plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars around, so we weren't going to go hungry.  We had a really yummy lunch at a doner kebab place and had a chat with the young Pakistani man who served us - he had been living in Spain for 8 years (I think his family were refugees, but we didn't get to that), and he was still trying to get citizenship, which would take another 2 years, so that he could travel elsewhere.  As he said, no-one would accept a Pakistani passport, so he was in limbo until he could get a Spanish one.  When he discovered we were Australian. and not English (a common mistake) he told us he was very keen to visit Australia, but it was so far away.  He hoped to be able to work in either the US, England or Australia once he had his passport.

Dinner that evening was in the main square, where all the families congregated from about 7.30pm onwards.  Again, it was a mix of generations, all outside on a pleasant, balmy summer's evening.  I have learned that if I want a steak to be cooked rare, or very rare, the Spanish term is 'al punto'.  So I had a very nice steak 'al punto' with chips that evening.

The next day we caught a bus into Barcelona city where we planned to do the cablecar ride across the water and up into the mountain of Monjuic.  We caught a bus to the cablecar then found a looooong queue waiting to go up.  Given that each car seated only 8 passengers, and took about 20 minutes to complete the ride, we did the maths and worked out that we might be able to get on by about ...... oh, a week next Tuesday.  So we did the obvious thing and retired to a nearby bar/restaurant to have lunch and ponder our options over a drink.

Luckily, the bar was right on the beach so we had a nice view while we worked out our next move.  We walked back along the beach and marina area to the city, stopping for a gelato on the way, as you do.  People were out in force,enjoying the beautiful day, sitting on the grass, having picnics, listening to buskers, it was very pleasant.  When we got back into town we stopped at a little bar (honestly, it was very hot, and we needed to sit!!!) for a refreshing ale - I might add that I only had a nestea.  

While sitting there, a young man came up to us holding a sheet of paper with some writing on it and shoved it in from front of us, begging for money.  We said no, but he got more insistent, putting the sheet of paper closer and closer to the table. We still kept saying no, and he started to walk off when Trev suddenly yelled "piss off, piss off" grabbed his hand, and the guy took off.   I was a little shocked, as Trev is usually very calm and rarely swears at people.  He said to me:  'Didn't you see what he was doing?'  I said 'no' - Trevor replied that the guy had my phone in his hand under the paper. I hadn't even realised what he was doing, he was so good at distracting me with the bit of paper and looking right at me as he tried to snaffle the phone.  Little bastard!  Good old Trev saved the day and earned a quite a few brownie points.  I was so annoyed with myself, as I had read up on all the scams and tricks that pickpockets and thieves used in Spain before we left, and I had been really careful.  To nearly get caught on the second last day was a bit of a disappointment.

We wandered the little streets, which now felt quite familiar, and walked past the apartment that had been our 'home' with 'our balcony' for the first week of our stay in Spain.  The street was just as busy, and the waiter at a tapas bar nodded and smiled at us, as he remembered us walking past him every day for a week.  We bought a couple of last-minute souvenirs then caught the bus back to our hotel.

Our last day in Spain was spent at the beach in Castelldefels - at least for me, Trevor and Bill - Lorraine decided to have a rest day before heading off to England for the next part of their journey the following day.  We had a lovely day, the water was very refreshing, and Trev and Bill appreciated the Spaniards' relaxed attitude to the wearing of bikini tops, enjoying the scenery.   We had a good lunch at a little beach bar, watching young Spanish girls buying beachwear from a group of ladies who frequent the beach with all their wares. 

On our last evening we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and it was excellent.  The service was slow, as they seemed to be unusually busy that evening, but we were all very happy with our meals.  We shared a couple of entrees, then Bill and I had beautiful lamb cutlets, Lorraine had duck in berries sauce and Trev had Bacalao (salted cod) on a mash. Very nice.

In the morning we wandered down to our 'usual' pastry shop and had coffee and toasted boccadillas for breakfast.  Then it was goodbye to Lorraine and Bill who headed to the airport for their flight to London, and we packed our bags for the final time to head home that afternoon.  

So, it was 'Adios Espana y muchas gracias', we've had a great time, and driven over 4000kms through your beautiful country.  We've seen:
  • beaches and deserts, 
  • lush green forests, 
  • beautiful mountains, 
  • winding roads through gorgeous, timeless little whitewashed villages,
  • cosmopolitan cities,
  • innumerable castles and spectacular churches,
  • amazing architecture, both old and new
  • passionate, intense flamenco dancing
  • magical sand sculptures.
We've enjoyed some of the best food in the strangest of places, and learned how to order 'tres cervesas y vino blanco' (3 beers and a white wine), 'tres cafe con leche y uno americano' (3 milk coffees and a long black), even if Lorraine did get a little tired of 'boccadilla con jamon y queso' (bun with ham and cheese).  We've discovered that you can get a beer just about anywhere, any time of the day - even at McDonalds, where you can have your bacon and egg McMuffin with coffee, juice or beer for breakfast.  The coffee here has been so rich and full of flavour, and we've rarely had a bad one.

We've had some interesting conversation with strangers, and been a little shocked at how many people were homeless and/or begging throughout Spain.  With the unemployment rate around 24%, perhaps it shouldn't be that surprising, but we were surprised at how many young unemployed people there were.  One of the young waitresses we talked to early on in our travels, said that although she worked long hours, 'I am happy - I have a job'.  A bit sobering for those of us from 'the lucky country'.  Click here for a link to an interesting article on the unemployed young men in Spain. 

Zaragoza via Pamplona - Trev & Bill running with the bulls?

The bulls all run past
this building
Plaque for those who
So, we're off to run with the bulls in Pamplona.  Trev and Bill are really keen, and Lorraine and I will be there to cheer them on and pick up the pieces.  We arrive at the old city (after several hits and misses by Kate, our rather confused GPS) and we're ready to go, but wait..... oh no, we missed it!  We're about a month too late.  Trev and Bill are sooooo disappointed.  We'll just have to have a drink instead - that should get them back on track.  At least they won't have to be included in the plaque on the left...

We walked around town looking for souvenirs, and there are plenty of them, but this is probably the most expensive town we've been to in Spain.  Outrageous prices, so we didn't bother.  We had some lunch then moved on to Zaragoza.  

We drove through some desert country between Pamplona and Zaragoza and lost count of the number of wind farms and solar farms we passed.  Spain is certainly into providing alternative energy sources, and they have plenty of wide open spaces to do it.

Trev and I had visited Zaragoza on our trip in 2009 and we loved it. This time we had booked into a small hotel, the Hotel Rio Arga, in the middle of the old city and of course we had trouble locating it, as most of the narrow streets were one-way.  Trev and Bill set out on foot to find it as we'd reached an impasse, and eventually came back with instructions on how to get there.  We pulled into the little street behind a couple of policeman telling people to move on - we told them we were checking into the hotel and they pulled us to one side to allow us to get our luggage out - very helpful.  

Our rooms were interesting (understatement).  There were no windows, but there was a big skylight right above our bed to let in some light.  The furnishings were a delightful turquoise laminate, and our wardrobe was just big enough for a pygmy to stand up in.  The shower over the bath was about 1.5m high, attached to a sloping roof, so Trev had fun trying to get wet.  But, it was a good price and an excellent location.

The city is an interesting mix of old and new, with the main plaza dominated by the beautiful Basilica of Our lady of Pilar, and beautiful modern water sculptures.  At night the square and surrounding streets are lit by golden wrought-iron streetlights and it looks spectacular.  

We had a lovely time here and discovered some lovely places to eat and drink - at least by this time we're more in sync with the eating times. 

Next we're back to Barcelona to spend a few nights before heading home.  Trev and Bill had booked a motel in Castelldefels near Barcelona a few days earlier, so when we got back to our hotel I checked our reservation for the address and other details.  Good job that I did!  As I read through our booking conditions I noticed a paragraph that said:  'Please note that Motel Punt 14 also functions as a love hotel' - what?????  I read it again, then realised that our wonderful men had booked a 'rent by the hour' hotel for us to spend our last few days in Spain!  We were so happy! 

After a quick conference with Lorraine and two very sheepish men, we decided to see if we could cancel our booking and find somewhere else.  So, the next couple of hours I was on the phone and email to  I explained the situation to a lovely lady called Christa in Amsterdam, who laughed out loud when I told her what our men had done, and she said she would do her best to try and cancel the booking without incurring cancellation fees.  After a couple of hours she called back to say she had spoken to the hotel, and managed to get them to cancel without penalty.  A big 'thank you' to Christa.  I managed to book a hotel with a swimming pool near the airport for our last few days, so that's where we're off to next.

Bilbao - breakfast at McDonalds - would you like a beer with that?

Bilbao sits on the Bilbao Estuary
Well, Kate had lots of hissy fits between Valladolid and Bilbao, and added lots of extra time to our trip.  But we got there in the end.  We stayed at the Novotel Bilbao Exhibition Centre, way out of town in a densely populated residential area.  Not a pretty area, but the price was right.  The hotel itself was OK, but the entry needed a bit of a makeover - all done in turquoise walls, and very dark inside.
This shop sells wool - and
advertises it colourfully

It was overcast with intermittent rain when we arrived, so we had a quick swim then looked around the area for potential eating spots.  We had a drink at a local tapas bar, then walked up to the Exhibition Centre to locate the metro station for a trip into town the next day.  It was quite a walk, but we're all so fit now after averaging 6-7 km per day, that it wasn't a problem.  The Exhibition Centre is a huge monolith with over 150,000m2 of exhibition space.  It apparently has heaps of restaurants, a hotel and a shopping centre inside, but these must only be open when there is a major event on.  And we were there when nothing was happening, so it was a bit dull and boring.

On the way back to the hotel we walked past a McDonald's and said that if all else failed we could always get breakfast there.   We decided to have dinner in our hotel, as it was raining and we didn't feel like going out again. The food was good, and we had a couple of bottles of wine to wash it down.

Next morning, yes, we headed to McDonald's for breakfast. We ordered a bacon and egg McMuffin and were asked "Would you like juice, coffee or BEER with that?" Seriously, for breakfast!?!  The boys were tempted, but declined.  That's a first - for both the offer and the 'no, thanks'.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The weather was a bit miserable but we headed into town on the metro.  Bilbao is a well-known art centre and boasts the Guggenheim Museum designed by American architect Frank O. Gehry in 1997.  He also designed the Seattle EMP Museum, which is in a similar style to this building in 2000.  In front of the museum is a living artwork, a huge puppy (I think it looks more like a cat) which consists entirely of multi-coloured flowers.  It's about 4 storeys high, and looks amazing.  We thought about going into the museum, then looked at the queue waiting outside, and had a rethink.  We could either stand outside in the hot Spanish sun or go somewhere to have a cool drink - the cool drink won, surprisingly.  

Trev walked past a shop with a gorgeous limegreen Mankini, and he was desperate to buy it, but common sense prevailed (me) and he decided against it. Whew!  

The town was full of sculptures and arty stuff, as well as the obligatory 900 churches, on the banks of an estuary, so it had a nice feel to it.  We walked past the sculpture on the right (there were several in the series) and Lorraine commented that it looked like a crumpled up bit of paper that someone had thrown away - I think she may have had something there!

We headed back to our hotel on the metro after a lovely dinner in town.  Next stop, Zaragoza via Pamplona.

Click here for a link to my Bilbao Picasa album.

Valladolid - an elegant city

We stayed at the Vincci Frontaura hotel on the outskirts of the city in Villadolid in a very elegant room, shiny chrome and glass everywhere, very nice.  As with most of the towns or cities we've travelled to, it has a very easy, efficient public transport system.  We caught the bus into the city on the first day to get our bearings, and of course, search for somewhere to eat.  We'd read about a place at the railway station, Estacion Gourmand, which housed a large variety of tapas bars and other eating areas, so we thought we'd try that.  Guess what?  Hardly anything was open, cos we'd got our timing wrong, yet again.  I think we ended up with a drink and a boccadilla, then we headed back to the hotel, needing a bit of a rest day. Near our hotel we found a little tapas bar where we had the best tapas so far of our trip - beautiful champignons in garlic and bacon, peppers stuffed with seafood, some chicken things stuffed with seafood and we went back and ordered more of the same.  Yum.

Next afternoon we headed back into town and had more of a look around - wide open streets, elegant buildings, many, many churches (what a surprise) and huge plazas.  We had a drink in the Playa Major, and watched the world go by.  It's a totally different lifestyle over here - it starts late and finishes late.  Whole families, mums & dads, kids and grandparents all start eating in the main squares from 8.00pm onwards, kids are playing in the square, mum and dad are having a drink and catching up with friends, and it's all very relaxed and stressfree.  Quite different from our point of view, where we put the kids to bed, go out for dinner and meet up with friends on our own, happy to have some 'me' time.  Interesting.

For dinner we found a 'NYC Hells' ribs place right next to one of the older churches.  We had a really good meal here, and finally managed to time it right, getting one of the last tables before the crowds arrived and started lining up.  Yay, a win for us at last.

Ok, next stop Bilbao.

Linhares da Beira - a medieval treasure

Inatel Linhares front view
Looking down from the mezzanine
What a surprise - we found the Inatel hotel in Linhares de Beira on, and it was one of those hidden treasures.  The older facade of the buildings has been preserved, but inside is a combination of very modern furnishings with old stone walls, high ceilings, huge fireplaces, deep windows and it all works beautifully.  Our room was large and airy with two deep bay windows overlooking the old village, the castle and the valley.  The bathroom was huge and modern, the free wifi worked very well, the hotel had a lovely swimming pool and tennis courts and the staff were excellent - no complaints.

View of the castle from our window
The village was established as a Portuguese village in 1169, and has a Roman, Visigoth and Muslim history.  The castle that overlooks Linhares was partially rebuilt in the 1300s and has a magnificent view over the Serra da Estrela.  It is a total step back in time - all the streets are cobblestoned, winding, hilly (of course), and most of the homes look like they've been plucked from a storybook and have remained unchanged through the centuries.

We were unable to eat at the hotel that evening, as the restaurant was not open, so we drove back into the nearby town of Celorico, where we had a good meal - veal casserole with rice and beans, tornados of veal with salad and chips, filet of veal with casserole vegetables, and fish steaks with salad and potatoes.  Very nice, washed down with a good bottle of wine.
The one and only cafe

Next day we walked around the town, had a coffee at the little coffee shop (the only one in town) and climbed the hill up to the castle.  Wonderful 360 deg. views, and from there we also spotted a cemetery, which Lorraine has been looking for ever since we arrived.  We headed in that direction and were joined by a little old lady and her husband out for a walk.  They must both have been well into their eighties, and the lady insisted on speaking to me in Portuguese, with a big smile.  I managed to get across to her that we were going to have a look at the cemetery, and she proudly led us to the grave of her parents - her father was born in 1812 and lived well into his eighties.  Most of the people in the graveyard had lived long lives - must be all the walking up and down the mountain on twisting, cobbled roads and clear mountain air.  We also stopped at the one and only 'Artisan' shop where Lorraine bought herself a pair of woollen slippers (in the heat of the Spanish sun) and I bought an interesting locally produced blackcurrant liqueur - I say, 'interesting' because although I love the colour of it (a brilliant purple/blue), I'm not so sure about the taste.  Oh well, we're supporting the local economy.

Back to the hotel for a swim in the nice cool pool, then a catchup on my blog before making the increasingly difficult decision about where to go for dinner.  However, as there is only one restaurant in this tiny little village, on this occasion it was easy.  We walked up the hill to have a bottle of champagne as we watched the sunset over the castle before dinner.  On the way we stopped at the restaurant Cova da Loba and were told that they were full - we've done it again.  But they said they could fit us in around 9-9.30 so we grabbed it.  We headed to the castle just in time to catch the sunset through one of the arches, and we enjoyed our bottle of wine in the tranquillity. 

Returning from the castle we saw welcoming lights in the Festa Social Club, a club whose sole responsibility is to prepare the village for a festival in August each year.  A committee is elected each year (and surprisingly, it is usually the same people, the same as it works in any club throughout the world) and they have to raise money by selling drinks and snacks in their little club.  A man was in the doorway having a smoke, and we asked if we could come in - he was happy to invite us in, as he had spent several years in the US, and wanted to keep his English up to date.  We had a great chat with him while he sold us some drinks, and he insisted that that I try their local liqueur, 'Licor Beirao' - I was happy to, and he gave me a very generous glass -it was good.  We told him we were going to Cova da Loba for dinner and he said we would be surprised at the restaurant - it was not a typical Spanish restaurant, but fine dining, and very good food.

To say we were surprised would be an understatement.  You walked into an old stone building, down a wooden ramp surrounded by barrels of beer and wine bottles artfully lit and arranged, then into a cavern which was tastefully furnished in a mixture of old and new.  And the restaurant was full.  I think we had the best meal of our trip so far at this place.

We started with crispy prawns with garlic sauce, and chicken pie with salad - they were all delicious and beautifully presented.  Next, we had duck breast with cranberries, pork cheek with mushrooms served in a crusty cob loaf, grilled goat with vegetables and potatoes and grilled minted lamb, potatoes, rice and beans.  We had a nice bottle of red and white wine, and coffees.  It was superb.  And so unexpected in this location.  A big tick to this restaurant, and in fact to the whole village.  It seemed they had worked out that they could only support one cafe, one restaurant, and one hotel.  So the hotel didn't have a restaurant, but did breakfasts, the cafe did breakfasts, snacks and lunches, and the restaurant only opened for dinner.  Wonderful cooperation.  

We loved this place so much we tried to book a further night, but it was fully booked for an upcoming festival (we always seem to get our timing wrong, it would have been lovely to stay for the festival), so it was on to our next stop at Valladolid in central Spain.

And so it continues....

After leaving Lisbon we headed North, hoping to find some accommodation on the coast - yes, in the middle of high season, in Spain - talk about optimistic.  We headed for Lourinha, where Kate (our GPS) had another hissy fit and drove us around in circles a couple of times.  Trev was driving and was getting a little tired, so we gave up on Lourinha and headed for Peniche, a beautiful rocky outcrop on the Atlantic Ocean.  

Again, it was very busy, so we headed just out of the main town towards a camping area that also had cabins.  We found they were sold out - no accommodation at all.  The young girl on reception was helpful, gave us a map and circled a couple of hotels that we could try.  Off we went, found the first hotel, which was looking hopeful, they were in the middle of checking a family in.  Unfortunately, that family took the last three rooms - oh no!  The young man on reception was helpful and checked out what was available in the area - the answer was 'nothing'.  Things are not looking good, we might all be sleeping in the car.  He then recommended a small 2-star hotel in Serra del Rei, about 15 minutes out of town.  We tried to punch it into our GPS, but Trev couldn't remember how to spell it, and no-one had written it down.  So we were winging it.  

Kate again had problems getting us out of town, but at last we escaped and got onto a road to 'somewhere else'.  It was getting close to 5.00pm with no accommodation, so the pressure was on.  We wound our way through yet another little village when Trev spotted a church next to a hotel sign saying 'Mar Azul' - yes, we had found it.  All we had to do now was actually get a couple of rooms.  The lovely lady on reception said 'yes, we have only two rooms left, one is a double, one is a triple', so we yelled 'Yes, we'll take them' - finally, we had somewhere to stay after a very long, very frustrating day.  The rooms were basic, but clean and we were happy to have them.  Next problem was finding food for the evening.  Nothing seemed to be open in the village apart from the Pizza shop directly downstairs, so we opted for that.  We tried to order and were told 'no food', despite the fact that people were eating around us.  We tried again, and the manager changed his mind and said he would get food for us.  Then one of the staff had an argument with him and we were told no, nothing for at least an hour and a half.  Very confusing - we left and looked around for something else.   We ended up a little way down the road having a toasted sandwich and a beer/wine.  On the way back to our room we saw the pizza shop all set up with a big group of people eating - obviously they had a big booking and could not accommodate us as well - we just can't get this eating business right.  

Back at the hotel we booked our next 2 nights accommodation at Linhares de Ribeira in the Serre del Estrela mountains.

Lisbon - our first big hiccup

Lisbon was going to be one of the highlights of our trip – Bill really wanted to go there to experience listening to Fado music in one of the many Fado bars in the Alfama district, and I was looking forward to it too.  I had booked a lovely 2br 2bathroom apartment here for 3 nights, prior to leaving Australia.  A deposit had been paid, so we were locked-in to the apartment for these dates. 

Well, we arrived in the city around 1.00pm and headed for the apartment.  The place was just buzzing, people everywhere, walking in the middle of the road, the traffic was unbelievable.  The area we were heading into was in the old town, with cobbled streets, tramcars, tramlines everywhere.  Trev was driving this section, with me as navigator and Kate, our trusty??? GPS assisting. 

What a nightmare!  I followed Kate’s instructions, which took us down a narrow tramline street, which unfortunately was only for Trams!  We were abused by a Lisboan who told us very strongly to ‘turn around, go back, you stupid bloody tourists, can’t you read?’ (at least, that’s the impression I got of his angry Portuguese!)  Poor Trev had to do a u-turn on a two-way tramline street about  one metre wide (believe me, that’s what it felt like) with a Portuguese man abusing him.  Not funny!  But Trev kept his cool, and calmly drove us out of mortal danger.  We managed to find a park (illegal, but that’s the way it was) near a busy little square while we tried to sort out our options.  We were so close to our apartment we could just about sniff it, but we couldn’t drive in there as it was only accessible to residents.

Our strategy was for myself and Bill to walk to our apartment (if we could find it), while Trev and Lorraine stayed with the car in our illegal parking spot.  So, off we went with Kate, our GPS.  We eventually found it – when we were previously driving down the tramlines we were about 50metres away from it.  We had rung ahead to arrange for someone to meet us there and give us the keys, but when Bill and I got there, no-one was around.   I phoned our contact to find out what to do, and he said that someone would be there, but unfortunately we couldn’t check into the apartment for about 3 hours, as the previous occupant (who, as he said, was French) had not understood she had to get out by a certain time and the apartment was still being cleaned.   Nooooo

Meanwhile, the person who was supposed to meet us came out of the one of the apartments and explained the same thing.  But, he said we could leave our luggage in the apartment and come back in about 3 hours.  We explained our problem with getting the car and our luggage to the apartment, and he said he would do what he could do to help, but it was very difficult in these historical areas.  He did mention that there was public parking near where Trev and Lorraine were, but it was very expensive - he didn't mention just how expensive.

Bill and I headed back to the others to discuss our options.  On the way, we went past the public parking area where we discovered the price – 135 Euro for 24 hours – yes, that’s right, about $200 per night!  It’s just getting better and better….  So, we found Trev and Lorraine, who were still illegally parked and being watched by one of the local shop owners, who was not happy.  

We discussed the situation: ridiculously expensive parking, dragging our luggage down long, narrow, cobbled streets in the heat of the day, not being able to get into our apartment for 3 hours.  When the police eventually arrived to move us on, we made a decision.  We had already paid a deposit of 150 Euro (around $220) and still had another 900 Euro to pay to stay for three days, but we decided to cut our losses, relinquish the deposit and just try to get out of Lisbon and stay somewhere else.  It was all just too hard, we were tired and hot and had had enough.  I contacted the apartment manager, who did try to help, and he was most upset at the thought that we didn’t like the apartment.  I explained that it was not the apartment  that was the problem, it was just the logistics of getting there.   So, now we had to find somewhere else to stay……so disappointing.

Cortegana – a gem in the mountains

From the coast we headed north, past Seville, and into the mountains of Cortegana for a night.  We had booked rooms at a guesthouse style place called Casa Rural Villa Cinta.  We parked right outside the house and were greeted by the owner, a lovely lady who didn’t speak a word of English.  My ‘Spanglish’ is getting a bit of a workout!

The rooms were high-ceilinged, old Spanish rural style, well-equipped with beautiful views of the mountains and the obligatory Spanish Castle/Fort across the valley.  There was a large communal living room with a fireplace, dining room and kitchen where our host would provide us with breakfast the next day at precisely 9.00am.  We got ourselves settled in, then walked down (and I do mean down) into town to find some lunch, check out the area etc.  We really should know better by now – we always seem to try to see the sights and go for meals at the time when the locals are having their siesta.  We’ve done it over and over again, but we’re slow learners.

So, nothing was open – and I do mean nothing.    We walked all over this little town, and went past an unusual building in the centre of the square for the second time – there were older gentlemen standing at the entrance, who waved at us to ‘come in, come in’…. they had drinks in their hands, so we thought we were onto a good thing at last.  We went inside to a bar full of men – the main man who had invited us, indicated that we should go through to the main salon (Lorraine and I think that women probably weren’t supposed to be in the bar area, but who knows?)  

So we all sat in this huge room with a few older men playing dominoes, and I worked out with my limited Spanish that we were in the Gran Casino, which was a social club, and that anybody who behaved badly would be asked to leave, according to a sign on the wall.   We had a couple of drinks here, and were feeling quite happy, so we looked at the menu and went to order some food.  Wrong!!!  No food was available until the evening – what a surprise.   We finished our drinks and headed in search of anywhere that would serve us food.  All the shops and restaurants were still shut.  

We found a restaurant at the top of a hill which was open, so had a drink, then went to order food.  We were told ‘nothing till 8.00pm’.  So we finished our drink, went to order again, and were told ‘not till 8.30, maybe 8.45’.  Off we go again.

Heading back up the hill towards our hotel, we went past a restaurant hanging off the side of the mountain (it had been closed on the way down).  There was now a car in front of it, and they were opening the gates – yay, we were saved.  Food was about to be served…. it was about 8.30pm by this stage and we had resigned ourselves to cheese and biscuits back in our rooms, so we were happy travelers.  We ordered from a non-English-speaking waiter who was very helpful and cheerful – we ordered fish, ham croquettes, which were all very good.  Let’s face it, we were happy to be eating at all.

Next morning, Trev and I got up and had a swim before breakfast in the lovely little pool which looked out to the castle.  It was refreshing.  Breakfast was served  by our host promptly at 9.00am.  Coffee, toasted breads, jamon (a different version of our ham), homemade chunky tomato sauce to go on the toast before the jamon, marmalades, cheese, pate.  Very good.

We had a lovely stay in Cortegana, and got a taste of real, rural Spain.  If we hadn’t already booked accommodaton in Lisbon, we would probably have stayed another night.  Next stop, Lisbon.

R&R on the Costa del Sol, Spain

Leaving Granada, it was Bill's turn to drive, with me navigating.  We had booked a 2br 2bathroom apartment on the southern end of the Costa del Sol, past Marbella and Malaga.  The Costa del Sol is populated by a few Spanish people, with the rest of the place taken up by English expats, either full-time or as summer visitors.  The number of apartment complexes we passed on the way down the coast was literally thousands.  Many of them set back on the hillside were unfinished or left in a delapidated state, mixed in with very expensive golf-course gated complexes.  There must have been a huge amount of money spent (and probably lost) in this area.  The whole strip (about 60km) had a Gold Coast touristy (a bit trashy) feel, without the highrise.

We checked into our Don Juan Apartment and were very happy with it - large living area, small kitchen, good sized bedrooms with a large covered patio area overlooking the pool and the beach.  One room had a double bed, the other had 2 singles and was definitely smaller, so we 'tossed a coin' for it with Lorraine and Bill.  We won, but I did feel bad for the others - no, really!

After trying to find some shops to restock our fridge, we gave up cos it was too far and too hot to walk.  Instead, we went for a swim in the Mediterranean Ocean - OK, we tried to go for a swim in the ocean, but it was soooo cold that only Bill ended up actually swimming in it.  The rest of us retreated to the pool, which was wonderful.   We then drove down to the nearest supermarket and spent up big.  We bought some fresh prawns, mussels, cheeses and salad stuff to bring home and enjoy on our patio.  Topped off with a couple of glasses of wine, it was delicious.

Next day was basically a 'regroup and relax' day - I caught up on my blog, Lorraine had a rest, Trev and Bill went to get some more supplies from the shop and managed to find a drink or two at the local beach bar.  For dinner we went to an English fish and chips restaurant which was recommended on Tripadvisor - it was actually very good, and we had a chat with the waitress (who was Australian) and the owners and staff.  They suggested that we go for a drive into the mountains and get away from all these touristy areas and find the 'real' Spain.  Great idea - and when we spoke to the reception staff at Don Juan, and they suggested exactly the same areas to explore, so we were convinced.

Next day, off we went to Casares, a gorgeous little whitewashed village high in the mountains - tiny, narrow, little cobbled streets which we walked down - then of course, we had to walk back up.  I'm certainly getting my steps up on my walking app here!  Next stop was Gaucin, another tiny picturesque place - but it was really difficult driving through the extremely narrow streets so as soon as we found a way out, we went for it. 

In need of refreshment, we found a picturesque cafe hanging off the side of a mountain at Algatocin - we parked directly in front of it, sat down waited for the owner to serve us.  She had no English, so my limited Spanish came in handy.  We ordered coffee, then she insisted that we come in and see her biscuits and desserts - so Lorraine and I did, and we ordered a chocolate wafer slice and a cheesecake to share, which were both delicious.  I took some photos of her cafe, and she proudly pointed out plaques on the wall that showed she had won first prize for her tapas dishes two or three times in a regional contest.  A pleasant little interlude.

On we went to Ronda, a walled town on top of a hill (of course).  Very pretty, but parking was limited in the historical areas, so we were told to move the car to a pay parking area.  We had a gelato then did a big walk around the old fort/castle area - magnificent deep gorges on either side, steep cobbled streets, very pretty.  We passed a church where someone was going to be married, and a beautifully decked-out horse and carriage made its way to the church - meanwhile, we watched lots of the guests arriving in all their finery, with the young girls trying to walk down these steep streets on 6-inch stillettos - hilarious.  They looked gorgeous, but not very graceful - you had to give them credit.

Back to our apartment, we decided that when in Spain, the obvious thing to do is try a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant.  So off we went to the local shopping centre for Teppanyaki.  We had a great night, had good food and plenty of it, met a couple of English expats, one of whom was a real estate agent, and learned a bit more about the area.  Very interesting.

Rock of Gibraltar
That's Africa (Morocco)
in the background
On our last day at Don Juan we travelled overseas - we drove to the Spanish border then walked into a British Territory - Gibraltar.  We went through the border where a girl had a cursory look at our passports then sent us through.  We didn't even get a stamp, most disappointing.  We paid for a guide to drive us up the famous Gibraltar Rock.  It was really interesting - and what a huge rock!  The guide, who was a Gibraltan, told us a bit of the history of the territory, took us to various viewpoints, where we could look across to Morocco in Africa.  

We went into the St Michael's Caves which were quite extensive - the various chambers were lit up with colours changing in time with the piped music through the caves.  It was quite 'kitsch' but actually very well done, and I have to admit that I liked it.  A bit like being in a disco in caves.

We entered the tunnels built into the rock starting in the late 18th century.  The Royal Engineers extended the tunnels during World War 2 - they were built to house cannons throughout the rock to defend the territory. There are about 55km of tunnels in total, more than the entire road network of Gibraltar.

All over the rock, of course, are the Gibraltar apes.  The males are quite large, and can be agressive.  Despite signs all over the place saying don't feed the apes, people still do, and as a result, if you happen to be carrying food, the apes will go for it - as happened to one lady carrying a bag of nuts when we were there.  A big male jumped up at her, grabbing for the bag - she got a shock, and her guide tried to shoo him away, but the male had another attempt, so the guide took them from the woman and gave them to the ape, who ate them, then still followed the woman around.  She was quite shaken.

Back into the van, and our guide dropped us off in the centre of town - which was mostly closed, as it was Sunday.  It's all terribly British, with red postboxes, the red telephone boxes, Marks and Spencers, fish and chips, bangers and mash, and roast dinners.  We had a lunch at a pub, where Bill scored the best, I think - a steak and ale pie which was the size of a side plate.  I ordered chicken nachos, which were pretty poor - all corn chips, no sauce, Trev had chilli con carne which was OK, and Lorraine had nachos which she enjoyed.

To get back to our car in Spain we had to walk across the Gibraltar airstrip - that was interesting, as we went over just after a plane had landed.  Through the border again, no passport required, then a quick drink before heading back to our apartment where we again had a swim and prawns for dinner.  Next stop - Cortegana in the mountains.