It won’t have escaped the notice of the handful of regular readers to this blog that I have been having somewhat of a blog sabbatical over the last few weeks. The reasons for this have been many and varied. It’s been a bit of an emotional time returning to the normal and the familiar after a year away and I’ve found it harder than I expected. After all, we’ve been living in a little bubble for the last twelve months not needing to make many decisions beyond the day to day perusing of the guidebooks and maps deciding on where to go and what to do. Simples. Few stresses, other than narrow roads and manic drivers.
Coming back though, alongside seeing family and friends, I knew we would have to confront a few things that, well, needed confronting! Our intention when we left on our adventure, over a year ago, was to see it as a lifestyle change and something we would continue to do for a few years at least if not longer. However, being cautious by nature we didn’t burn all our bridges by selling up in the UK and getting rid of all our stuff before we left. Oh no, that ‘just in case’ refrain was always in the back of our minds when deciding what to do. Even though we had donated and given away lots of our possessions before we left we still kept a significant amount of it stored in a container whilst our house is rented out, you know, ‘just in case’.
‘Just in case’ living in a small space got too much and we wanted a UK base to return to. ‘Just in case’ we fell out of love with the lifestyle and wanted to resume ‘normal’ life again. ‘Just in case’ we both fell out with each other completely and we could enjoy a mud fight over who was having what on our separation (that’s not going to happen by the way as poor Tim signed up to a life sentence a very long time ago)! You get the picture.
So, I’m back here again after a whole year still talking about ‘stuff’. Stuff, stuff, stuff. I won’t be offended if you skip over this post, bored, having read my musings before about ‘stuff’ because, frankly, I am bored too. If ‘procrastination’ was an Olympic sport I’d be lining up there in Tokyo, 2020! But, procrastinate, justify, philosophise, reason, dillydally, put off, postpone, defer, call it what you will, a decision had to be made about what to do with our ‘stuff’. End of.
So it all went.
Just like that.
We called Dorothy House, a local charity which has provided excellent end of life care in the past to Rita, one of our very good friends, and to Eve our elderly neighbour, and they kindly took the whole lot yesterday in one fell swoop. The money we save in storage costs will now be invested in our future life instead of continually paying for our past life.
The key to the container has been returned and a weight has been lifted. We don’t have to revisit the ‘stuff’ question again. Ever! Draw a line Jane. Draw. A. Line. __________!
It’s been a long time coming this blog post. Not because it’s particularly interesting but because we haven’t picked up any wifi for what seems like ages. Today we have finally got some wifi, in a Wetherspoons in Plymouth in the UK no less, so I can finally update the blog at the end of our first year of living our new life whilst supping my first pint of real ale from the nearby brewery at Salcombe.
Here was our last week or so:
The journey north couldn’t be put off for any longer as we needed to be in Santander for our ferry to Plymouth on 12th April. In keeping with our slow travel methods of the last year we allocated a week or so for the 600 mile trip. Our plan was to drive just two to two and a half hours in the mornings which would then give us time to stop and explore some key places on the way.
Ubeda, which was recommended to us and we had missed on our drive over to Cordoba in October last year, was our first stop. There is a very good free aire there which looked pretty new and was only a ten minute stroll into the old town. And what a lovely old town it was.
Built on an escarpment overlooking the valley of the Guadalquivir, Ubeda packs in more historic buildings than many much larger towns and cities and has some beautiful Plazas. Our guide book describes it as a showcase of Renaissance magnificence which is no doubt why it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Following the A4 northwards took us into the Castilla-La Mancha region made famous by Cervantes tales of Don Quixote de La Mancha. We stopped for the night at the small village of Puerto Lapice which had a free aire on its outskirts.
The tiny village has a small museum dedicated to Don Quixote which took us ten minutes to go round followed by ten minutes being funnelled through the extensive shop selling anything and everything relating to Don Quixote. They were trying very hard to push the Don Quixote theme I think!
We stopped off the next morning at Consuegra to have a gander at the eleven restored windmills on the ridge above the town before driving on to Toledo for our nights stop.
Toledo, another UNESCO site, which sits on a rocky mound at a bend in the river Tagus, definitely has curb appeal as you approach it from the east side as we did. It is really quite a sight and very compact.
There is an aire in a car park just outside the old town but it was rammed with cars and vans so we opted to stay at the campsite which was a little further away from the town but was in a beautiful setting and nice and quiet.
There was a bus service from outside the campsite to get into the old town but, after consulting the Maps.Me app, we discovered a path that took us, along the river, all around the outside of the town with some fantastic views along the way.
The old town is a maze of narrow streets which we found hard to get our bearings in but it’s not very big so it didn’t really matter that we had to double back on ourselves a few times. I think it is probably the most touristy place we have been to so far or it may be it just felt like that as it is so compact. After an hour or so of dodging speeding cars coming along the narrow streets and weaving around school groups we made our way back to the campsite.
We had planned to stay two nights in Toledo but felt a bit overwhelmed with the crowds so we hit the road the next morning heading for Ávila.
Ávila old town is completely surrounded by 2km of 11th Century walls, built by Alfonso VI, when he captured the town from the Moors in 1090. Constructed by the Muslim prisoners, the walls took nine years to complete. It’s €5 to walk the top of the walls so we made do with walking them at the bottom which cost us €4 in ice creams instead.
Next up was Segovia which didn’t disappoint. It was a twenty minute walk into the town from the free aire by following the aqueduct. Thought to have been constructed by the Romans during the 1st Century AD, the water was transported underground from the mountains for 13km before flowing into the aqueduct.
It runs for over 700m reaching a height of 28.5m above the Plaza de Diaz Sanz where it is supported by single and double arches.
It was definitely worth seeing there is no doubt. The Alcazar in Segovia is rumoured to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle at Disney World and stands on a rocky promontory above the river.
There’s a lovely walk which drops down to the river below the town giving excellent views of the Alcazar from all sides.
Feeling we had had enough of sightseeing after a busy few days we had a peruse around a large Carrefour at our next stop in Palencia. Tim looking at tablets, me looking in the homewear department! I found some beach mats that would be ideal for seat covers to replace the outdoor towels, which were supposed to be temporary covers, but have been in place for nearly ten months. At €3 each they were a bargain. They do have a potential migraine inducing stripe to them so Tim may well have to wear dark glasses inside from now on. Oh lordy though, was I pleased as Ollie was starting to look like a student bed-sit!
So having had an action packed week driving across Spain from south to north we decided to stop at an aire that had been recommended to us not far from Santander. This aire was free but we would have gladly paid for it as it has an added attraction in that it is situated directly outside a safari park.
A minutes walk from the aire we were able to while away an hour or two watching the elephants do their thing which was a lovely end to our week.
So that’s it, our first year on the road is now complete. We are back in the UK for the next few weeks to see family and friends and to sort some things out at home before turning around again to head for Germany for Season 2!
Walking, walking, walking. We’re in the valleys of the Alpujarras region, made famous by Chris Stewart’s books, which nestle in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to the north and the little sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador to the south. It is a truly beautiful area for walking and we feel like we are on holiday!
Oh, I know that those of you reading this, especially if you’re reading whilst at work, will have just snorted, thrown your arms aloft and muttered a few expletives at that last statement but we’ve been pitched up, stationary, on a campsite for the past week tootling about the area on the bus, with warm weather, enjoying a laid back week. So, like a holiday!
We felt a bit flat arriving in Lanjaron on the west side of the Alpujarras after having had a great couple of days in Granada. We stopped at the tourist information office there to ask about walking routes:
‘Habla ingles’, I asked the lady behind the desk;
‘siyouwannamep’, she replied.
Before I could even decipher what she’d said, or think about an answer to her question, she’d ripped a map of the town off the large pad on the desk and was furiously circling points of interest whilst belting out a running commentary in such a thick accent, and at such speed, I almost felt physically assaulted! I looked at Tim with one eyebrow raised to infer ‘did you get all that’, but, judging by his smirk, I thought it was highly unlikely.
That little encounter picked our spirits up no end. We emerged from the office, blinking into the sunlight, grinning from ear to ear, each exclaiming that we hadn’t understood a word she’d said but what a nice lady she was! Along with the town map, with all its scribblings, we at least also came away with a leaflet detailing a couple of walks starting from the town.
We spent the next couple of days winding our way up the steep hillsides around Lanjaron marvelling at the views across the hills towards the coast.
The Moors, settling here in the 8th century, gradually transformed the landscape. Small hillside villages were created in a style akin to that found in North Africa at the time. Narrow streets with flat roofed houses, built in terraces, almost sink into the hillsides. It’s quite different to the Pueblo blancos we visited around Ronda but equally, if not more so, interesting and picturesque. Our second walk from Lanjaron climbed steeply up the hillside above the river before following one of the acequias for several kilometres.
The acequias, developed by the Berber settlers, are an ingenious and efficient water irrigation system. The snow run-off from the surrounding mountains in spring and summer provides the water that rises up into natural springs where it is then guided, via the acequias, to where it needs to be. The whole area is lush and green thanks to this ancient system.
For the last week we’ve been at the Orgiva Campsite about 2km south of the bustling bohemian town of Orgiva. I don’t think it’s too unkind to say that Orgiva is best viewed from the mountain road a few km above the town as, up close, apart from the 16th Century church, it’s none too pretty! The surrounding area is fabulous but the town is a bit unloved in places and only really appealed to us as a source for a few provisions and to board the bus that took us into the much more picturesque High Alpujarras villages.
A little more about that bus though. We thought we’d stay at the campsite whilst visiting this area, making use of the bus to get about, to give Tim a break from the stress of driving the narrow, winding roads that were sure to plague this region. We were right about the roads but I was wrong about the stress.
We boarded that bus in Orgiva, like lambs to the slaughter, brimming with excitement at a day out in the three villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. The smile was soon wiped off my face as the driver took off up the mountain road like a rat up a drainpipe. The road up to these three villages, whilst not too narrow, was very windy, steep and, once we started to enter the Poqueira gorge, had near vertical drop offs at its edges.
I’m sure the bus driver knows the roads and knows his bus but he was driving twice as fast as I would have driven a small car on that road. Our previous days walk had involved high up vertical drops from the footpath at many places but, as I was in charge of my own legs, I didn’t feel in the least bit uncomfortable about it. I wasn’t, however, in charge of that bus and that kind of put the heebie jeebies up me. My mind started idly mulling over the statistics of fatalities down that gorge but, either it’s not a common occurrence, or the authorities clear the wreckage away promptly so as not to upset the tourists. It also didn’t help once I’d noticed the small crucifix gaily swinging to and fro from the driver’s rear view mirror. I sincerely hope the driver was absolutely confident in his driving abilities and not leaving the safety of himself and his passengers up to a higher source.
Well, I haven’t had a drink since my Sangria binge in Gibraltar but I sure felt like one after I got off that ruddy bus! Tim had no such qualms and enjoyed every minute of the journey grinning like a simpleton at my obvious discomfort. I could see the words ‘pay back’ written behind his eyes.
The friendly, colourful villages and stunning scenery were worth it though so I endured another two days on the bus. By the third day I was relaxed enough to almost enjoy it and trust the driver…….almost!
Here’s a sample of pictures from our walks over the week.
After reading the first three of Chris Stewart’s books some years ago the Alpujarras has lived up to my expectations. The walks we have done have been some of the best of the last year and we’d definitely like to come here again. Alas, our ferry from Santander back to the UK is booked for the 12th April so we need to press on a little north.