Toughs Travels travel blog

Walking down from the top of Spain's second highest mountain, Pico Veleta...

Mountain monument in the Sierra Nevadas.

Carolyn "free wheeling" down from 7,500 feet!!

View from our caravan pitch, down towards Granada.

The Alhambra in Granada and the Sierra Nevada with it's first dusting...

A view of part of the gardens and pool at our new...

The` South of Spain - Mountains and Sea

Friday 22nd October 2004

Off to the South again. Down fairly quiet Autopistas and after a circle of Granada we find the selected campsite in the mountains. Really nice but a little disappointing in the views - nice but not spectacular - yes I know we are hard to please.

Rather than cook we decide to try the campsite restaurant - and it's nice but more expensive than we are used to!! 37 Euros for the meal including wine - so about £24 GBP - so OK really!!

Saturday 23rd October

Off to the Sierra Nevada National Park - pretty good, and the ski resort is quite nice - not true alpine - but quite pleasant - even in the sunshine. And it's high 2,250 meters, but it's also the most Southerly ski resort in Europe.

As we have the bikes on the back of the car - we do a bit of downhill free wheeling on the way home - great fun and the back road is quiet. We then have a reasonable lunch in a mountain restaurant before trying a single track road home - and it's steep and very narrow - fortunately we meet very few cars going the other way. But we will not be repeating the exercise!!

Sunday 24th October

Cloudy and windy but decide to do the walk today. What walk I hear you ask - well the second highest peak on the Iberian Peninsula, Veleta, is the answer. The next question is how high? Answer 3,396 meters - yes really - now that's a big hill, well over 10,000 feet.

However, we can cheat a bit by taking the car to 2,500 meters - and boy is it windy in the car park. But off we go. There is actually a road all the way to the top but since becoming a National Park only authorised vehicles are allowed on it. The road twists and turns back on itself continually but there is a faint path that cuts across the bends and takes you in almost a straight line until it becomes so steep that the road seems an easier option. On a good day it would be an easy walk but we were battling against VERY strong winds so it was hard going. 2hr 20 to the top and 1hr 20 back down.

Later we try the reception Internet facility - but gosh, is it slow!! The laptop is quicker - though it is cheap at 1 Euro for 30 mins - but it's not good value as it takes SOOO Long. We give up after a brief check of the emails and book tickets for the Alhambra in Granada - NO, GF it's not a theatre!

Monday 25th October

A grey day in every respect. Then we try and get our tickets for the Alhambra at a BBVA bank - no joy - the system has changed and they must be collected at the ticket office on the day. WHAT THEN IS THE ****ING point of having an Internet facility to purchase the tickets?? We've now wasted several hours, all to see a pile of Moorish junk that Napoleon or Franco should have blown up years ago.

Tuesday 26th October

Snow on the hills behind us after heavy rain overnight, but the day gradually brightens up. And by the time we leave for the Alhambra (for our 5.00pm slot - yes they really only allow you in to see the main part at specified times - to keep the crowds down) it's warmish, but looks still cloudy down in the valley.

The actual Alhambra, is interesting enough, and the Palacios Nazaries is intricately decorative, but is not worth going out of your way for - Neil thinks anyway!!

Later we walk down to the town's main square - and again, it's not great - pretty rundown - even our drive through Granada on Monday, just gave the impression of a teeming city - no real outstanding features. (Perhaps we need to spend more time here to appreciate it!)

Wednesday 27th October

Cloudy AGAIN. So time to move on to the southern side of the Sierra Nevada to the Alpujarras region and a town called Orgiva. Once again Carolyn's excellent navigation gets us there without any problems and the site is easily found. Nice little place but the pool is closed - not that we'd want to use it today as it's chilly and just starting to rain AGAIN.

Thursday 28th October

A windy night and a grey start to the day, but its Thursday and market day so we walk the 2km into town and right through the town before we find the market stalls! There are a few fruit & veg stalls, LOADS of clothes stalls and quite a smattering of 'new-age' stalls. This area has quite an 'Ardfern in the sun' feel to it. In the afternoon we drive to the next town, Lanjaron, and have a wander through it. It is more substantial than Orjiva and is known for its Balneario, or spa.

In the evening we decide to have a drink at the campsite bar/restaurant. So we order the usual glass of wine and beer. Carolyn has her change purse out and asks to pay. 2.70 euros is excellent value for a large wine and beer, but even more so when the barman brings us a plate of meat stew and bread - a little tapas to go with our drink! We decide to have another drink and this time 2 bacon and cheese rolls come with the drink!! So that saves making tea tonight!

Friday 29th October

Windy night again and a cloudy start, so we decide to move to the beach!! Well, head towards the Med and Marbella anyway. The first part of the drive is fine - dual carriageway and motorway, but Neil decides to see the low life of Malaga and we end up in slow moving city traffic - in which we take a couple of wrong turnings - (not I may add due to Carolyn's navigation - just poor road signs) NOTE: in towns they road signs tell you where the nearest McDonald's is but not how to get to the next town!! Daft Spanish - no wonder they had a Civil War last century!!

Anyway we eventually get to the campsite after yet another wrong exit off the notorious N340 road - NO, Race Track is more of an apt description - but on reflection - no, race tracks are relatively safe places - the N340 is definitely not a safe place. It's a two lane motorway, going through a built up area, but with very short off ramps, and worse still, even shorter on ramps - like STOP signs, and then you join a 70 mph traffic flow straight off. NO WONDER THERE ARE SO MANY FATALITIES ON THE ROAD.

In the evening we have an early dinner and go for a walk to the local pubs (it's quite American in that respect - main road with collections of shops/bars/restaurants every so often - not real community atmosphere I think.)

And the bar we end up in is called the Highlander (yes really - and yes it is done out in Tartan and Scottish stuff). So we are sitting there quietly and a fight starts between this drunken guy and the two (male and female) Scottish owners. Anyway, it's short-lived but the drunk guy has pushed the owner(s) into the kitchen, smashed up a load of crockery and got hold of a knife and cut the girl on the body - SO, the police are called and of course we are witnesses to the incident!! - Ah, a quiet retirement in the sun - dream on!!

Saturday 30th October

Sunny morning and we are up early 8.20am to go and meet Louise at Frank's place. An easy 30 min drive, but we over shoot the exit and end up 10 mins late at the apartment complex. But it's really nice, beautiful gardens, nice large apartments with open terraces and parking - impressive.

We are both very taken with the place and spend some time with Louise - really nice girl - and then we look around the nearest shops to see what they have to offer - no point in having to drive 3 miles to get a pint of milk!! Ah and it's all positive - ah- more to think about.

Back at the campsite we decide to cogitate things by going for a walk along the nearest beach - nice, but gritty.

Sunday 31st October

An extra hours kip - whoopee!! And it starts sunny, so we decide to move down the coast a little bit and look round the area where the apartment is situated. The nearest campsite is not great, but stay anyway - as it's only for a while - but there are many long termers here - god knows why!!

So, we scout around a bit and take a look at Puerto Banus - ok, but nothing to get worked up about - SO, still undecided!!

Monday 1st November - National Holiday in Spain for All Saints Day

So, as it's a holiday most things are closed, but a few bars are open and so is at least one supermarket we pass

But for us it's a pretty lazy day, by the caravan in the morning then a drive around the local beaches west of us down to Estapona - and some are quite nice - off the beaten track and proper wooden posts and thatch, beach bars - mostly very quiet on this holiday. But then it is windy but just warm enough to sit in shorts and an open necked shirt. - Not bad for the 1st Nov.

So, we have almost decided to stay here for the winter - though we need to check on the ferries home and also the apartment availability.

Tuesday 2nd Nov

We have arranged to go back and take another look at the apartment - and all things being equal - we are going to take it for 4 months. Drive the car home, soon, and get it MOT'd and then back for the winter.

Deal done and ferry booked. So out from Santander on the 8th Nov, back from Plymouth on the 19th, and 4 months rent of the flat to late March! But we have to find somewhere secure to park the caravan for this period - the flat does have underground parking - but it's too low for the caravan - and the other residents might not like it!!

The only fly in the ointment might be that we could need a Spanish Bank account, to get a phone line sorted out for the internet.

So, we trot into the nearest bank, ask the guy at the desk what documents are required, and he says just your passport!! And how long will it take to get the account set up? Do it now, if you like - says he! So, 10 mins later Carolyn has a Spanish bank account.

NOW - having been closely involved with Money Laundering procedures in the UK for a number of years - I'M ASTOUNDED!!

No requirement for proof of address, no lease required to show where we will be living, no "44 page" forms with residency questions and security passwords and "what did you have for breakfast?" NOTHING but the Passport. AND we can stop by the bank on Friday and pick up the cheque book!

What a change from the UK!! Recently I tried to set up an Internet based Business account with the Bank of Scotland (or is that the Halifax? After the takeover - sorry, merger!). I'm an existing customer with Business account, personal account and several mortgages - and they wanted a multi page form with all the personal details they have on file AGAIN! And, when I queried this requirement, I got the stock answer "It's for Money Laundering!" AH, NO it's not 'because I'm an existing customer. Then she says "Oh, it's to make sure our records are up to date" CRAP!

What it really is, is that all the UK financial institutions are running scared and covering their backs. So that anyone who opens a new account has to have the full Money Laundering process, so that the BIG, BAD Financial Services Authority cannot accuse them of failing in their duty to prevent money laundering.

YET in Spain - easy peasy to open an account!! So much for common standards throughout the EU to combat organised crime!!

Wednesday 3rd Nov.

Cloudy start to the day but it brightens up by noon and we sit out and have lunch, before going to look at another caravan site that may have long term storage.

The site's quite nice, with big pitches and some sea views AND they have a little secure compound for storage, but the guy on duty does not speak English and we are told to telephone later in the day. (We do, but only get a recorded message!)

We visit the local Carrefour supermarket, and it's pretty good - lots of fresh produce (fish/fruit/local meats and Ostrich Meat) - plus good value drink - Most important to the Tough's -e.g. reasonable wine at 1.20Euros and 75cl Bottle of Tanqueray Gin for 9.49 Euros - that's only about £6.00 in real money!! Foolish not to drink more, at these prices.

Thursday 4th Nov.

Even cloudier start to the day AND a few drops of rain - gosh, winter is here!! But we go along to the apartment and part with our dosh for the deposit - deal done. Just to sort out phone and Sky TV now!!

Friday 5th Nov.

Rain overnight so the place is very wet underfoot. We visit the Telefonica (BT's equivalent in Spain) office near the apartment and speak to Franc - Spanish but with good English- and explain that we want an ADSL line - no problema, says he - copies Carolyn's passport, bank details and takes the address - Two weeks it will be done - Eh!! OK, no contract or Direct Debit to sign - no problema, he says again!!

So, we hope to have a phone line when we return to the apartment, but who knows!!

Then we visit the bank to see if Carolyn's new cheque book has arrived - and yes! Nice, shiny new book - just waiting to be spent!! Then we ask for a cash card for the account - and Carolyn has to sign a bit of paper - NOW, our Spanish is not good - so we hope that she is just signing for a card - we could be agreeing to look after the bank officials mother-in-law in our apartment for a year - WHO KNOWS - We wait with baited breath in anticipation!!

Saturday 6th November

Up early and away by make for Santander and the ferry to the UK. Nice easy drive up to Granada and through it easily this time - though it's taken 2 hours and with at least another 45 mins to get to the ski slopes - I don't think that we will be bringing our ski stuff back with us.

We make good progress and decide to stop just short of Madrid at Aranjuez, it had a good write up in the "Rough Guide" and we chose the Hotel Don Manuel - but the staff are not friendly, though the room is OK and we can park right outside with no problem.

We go for a little walk about - nice place with lots of fountains and gardens but the streets are quiet - maybe just because it's siesta time.

For dinner we decide to walk around to find an interesting restaurant - but they all look pretty dull (even the one that was chock a block at 4.00pm (these long Spanish lunches again) but we do find a Racion bar - Now it's not big, but pretty busy, so we order a drink and sit and watch how things are done before making a fool of ourselves. So we order "una calamares and quarto croquettes" (that's a plate of fried squid rings and 4 dods of potato in breadcrumbs, for those not into these foreign lingos) and we have another drink and then a couple of jambon bocadillos (ham on little rolls) and we just watch the comings and goings for a while. The bar though small has all ages as customers and even a kiddy in a push chair. All good fun and good value at 16.20 Euros.

On the way back to the hotel - remember this is Saturday night at 9.15pm - we stop at an interesting furniture come gift shop and but a nice tea light holder for the Spanish flat.

Sunday 7th Nov

We start the day with a very average Continental breakfast in the hotel and then away by 9.15. Initially the road is very quick, but we have a little difficulty in Madrid as the road signs are not clear, but after only a slight detour we are heading north on the correct road. But this time it's a slow two lane job, and our average speed decreases dramatically - and there is a section just south of Santander where it's twisty and mountainous and really slow going - virtually impossible to overtake.

However, we arrive on the north coast by 3.00pm and rather than staying in Santander we go to a little coastal village we stayed at a couple of years ago called Suances - and to the Hotel Castillo (which as the name suggests is a castle) though it's small - but set up on a headland on the road to the lighthouse and we get a really nice room overlooking the bay - watching the surfers.

For dinner the hotel had recommended a restaurant down in the main village, so we meander down and the picture of the dining room looks nice - but there are no lights on the dining room but the bar area is busy with some tables with people eating - so they must be doing some sort of food - but the kitchen is open plan and there is no sign of activity. So, we go in order a drink and sit and watch again. As is common in Spain we are given some nibbles (crisps this time) then we see open sandwiches on the bar - and ask to have one - but the barman gesture that that is the only one (looks like salmon) but hands us a plate with sliced baguettes with cold roasted peppers on it - quiet tasty - but Neil needs more food. So we are not sure what the items on the menu are so we order Calamares (again) and some other stuff and sit down at one of the "cafeteria" style tables and wait - then the barman brings along a blue table cloth, bread, cutlery and oil and vinegar - and when it arrives it's good.

Monday 8th Nov

Brighter start to the day and one surfer out by 9.10 am - suppose it beats going to the office on a Monday morning. We then have a walk to town and along the beach almost deserted but not quite - a couple of joggers and a few dog walkers.

So off to Santander, but on the way we stop at a Carrefour supermarket for - provisions (can't run short of alcohol can we??) and fuel (it's about 60p a litre in Spain) before going into town proper...

So into Santander and lunch at the third attempt, at the café Rhin (the two other restaurants suggested by the guide book are both closed!!) - but we get a nice picture window and have a salad and a Californian sandwich - served by a dour waiter. Why is it that waiting /service staff are usually miserable and morose? Is it because the job is a pain or is it that these are the only kind of people who will take these jobs? Now I know that there are some really, nice helpful and smiley waiting staff - but they really are the minority.

So we arrive at the ferry terminal by 3.00pm and wait in the queue till 4.15 - then ferry does not leave until 5.55 (should have been 5.00). No explanation from the captain- why NOT? - even a simple announcement like "sorry for the late departure we will try and make up the time on the voyage and arrive on schedule" - Not too difficult.

But the French staff are smiley at least!!

But in our little cabin we find that there is no power in the cabin sockets. So can't run the computer!! But after a visit to the "guest services" the electrician came round and fixed it pronto - or should that be "vite" - it's Brittany Ferries - so French - see!!

Dinner in the café restaurant - cause the main one only has a four course (or buffet) for £22.00 - now that's fine if you want a big meal - be we only want one course!

Tuesday 9th Nov.

Grey and misty as the ferry ploughs up the entrance to the channel and into Plymouth. So not much to see - pity - but then what can you expect in November.

And then straight up North - though the weather varies between really nice and Torential Rain Storms. And another thing - we travelled 600 miles through Spain without a single roadworks slowing our progress - what happens only a few miles from Plymouth - YES, single lane roadworks - makes you wonder.

So dear readers - that's it again - there will be no more "daily diaries" until we start travelling again. Because, some people claim that it takes too long to read the daily text!! BUT do not cry - we will update the web site with a summary every now and then.

Take care from Neil and Carolyn

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