Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday 31 January - Canjáyar

Where’s Colin? He’s at a free Aire (with service point) just on the edge of the village of Canjayar at N37º00.834 W2º44.717

I had just programmed the SatNav this morning, to take us to the nearest Lidl, when I noticed the flaw in my planning. Having paid enough attention to make sure we didn’t find ourselves in Almeria on a Monday, I completely failed to notice that we were leaving on a Sunday. Our cupboards are getting a bit bare, and we’re just heading into an area where there will be limited shopping opportunities, so we really could have done with a big shop today. Ne’er mind. I’m sure we’ll easily find some little food shops in the villages we’ll be passing.

Canjayar, sitting on the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada National Park, was to where we headed today, chosen purely because it has an Aire, although also with the hope that once here we would find some walking trails nearby.

The first, obvious thing for us to do upon arrival was to take a walk around the village, where we soon found the public laundy, which was built in 1942:

Continuing along the main street, we turned off down a little side road at random and it was down there that we first noticed one of these ceramic ‘Plan Turistico’ waymarkers, embedded in the road. We duly followed the arrow and had ourselves a tour of the town.

We were just about to follow an arrow up to the church which sits prominently on a pimple above the village, when Mick requested a toilet stop so into a bar we went (passing a man walking down the street carrying a tuba, on our way ). Sipping coffee and tea (respectively, not mixed!), Mick was engrossed in some football on the TV, so I set about inputting the tapas menu into Google translate, and having completed that task I was drooling. We duly ordered:

A coffee, a tea and three plates of food (two served on chips, one with bread) for precisely €8

As we had approached the bar three maroons had gone up, with loud bangs, above the church; a novel way to call the congregation to the service, augmenting the usual tolling of the bells? As we left the bar, the church service had just finished and as we rose steeply up the tiny road we could see such a gathering outside the church that we feared we were about to become tourist gatecrashers at a funeral. As it turned out, it wasn’t a funeral, but the start of some sort of religious procession which included a marching band (ah, so that explained the man with the tuba!). Three more maroons went up as the procession proceeded. I duly leapt out of my skin again.

After admiring the view from outside the church…

… we soon caught back up with the procession, only diverging from it when they turned right at the bottom of the hill and we turned left. We could still hear the band half an hour later as we started heading back to Colin.

We’d not long sat down on the sofa, with the side door open wide, when a herd of goats came past. Not something we see everyday in a motorhome Aire…

Just before we had finished our stroll around the town, we came across a sign (which it would have been handy to find at the start) which told us that we could connect to wifi in that area and download information about, and an audiotour for, the route around the town. The wifi was non-existent, and my mobile data had decided it didn’t want to play just then (something which happens at least once a day for a short period). However, I’ve since visited the website: and was impressed at what I found there – including similar tours of various other villages in the area. A good way to encourage tourism to these little villages, I reckon.  

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Saturday 30 January - Almeria

Where’s Colin? He’s not moved an inch from where he was yesterday, on pitch 30 at Camping La Garrofa.

At about 8pm last night this less-than-a-third-full campsite, inhabited almost excusively by Brits, suddenly sounded like it had turned into a Club 18-30 resort. Raucous sounds eminated from the bar area, with occasional blasts of karaoke and completely unnecessary levels of shouting. None of the people we’d seen milling around the site during the day seemed the sort. Either they called it a night early, or our audiobooks drowned it out, as once we were tucked up in bed it didn’t disturb us – a good thing as we had an uncommonly early start planned for today.

We’ve now learnt that some attractions can close at 2pm on a Saturday, so it seemed the best course of action was to arrive in Almeria just as things were opening. Accordingly, we were at the bus stop by 8.20, ready for the 8.30 bus, which finally rolled up at 8.51. It was only a ten minute ride into town, so by the time the castle and museums were just opening their doors, we were making our way via the understated, fortified cathedral (which didn’t look cathedralesque at all)…

…and up some very narrow streets…

…to the Alcazaba, a Moorish castle dating from the 10th century:

Yes, that photo above is of a model, taken at a jaunty angle through its glass case. I couldn’t possibly take a representative picture of the real thing as the place is huge. I didn’t manage a worthwhile shot of the lower level at all, which is all gardens nowadays, but by climbing up onto the wall which separates the lower and middle levels I was able to take this snap, showing the area which is being excavated to reveal the old dwellings, with two (in the foreground) having been rebuilt:

The top level was the bit which was distinctly castle-like:

Having arrived so early that we were the first visitors of the day, it wasn’t until we made our way back down to the lowest level that we started encountering other people. It looked like at least one coachload was in attendance by then, making us even happier with our early start, and our only wish during our visit was that more information had been available as to the history of the place and what we were seeing. Still, considering that entry is free, we couldn’t really complain.  

Finding the Tourist Office was tricky, even though I knew exactly where it was supposed to be. In fact, even stood right outside of it, we struggled to see that it was there. They certainly don’t make these places easy to find! A useful town plan was obtained, but they weren’t able to give us any information about walking routes in the surrounding area.

A pause for coffee and croissant (involving questioning which was incomprehensible to us, so we just said ‘si’ to one of the options; the croissant arrived warm, cut through and buttered, and we can only guess that was the subject of the questions) preceded our visit to the archeological museum. The museum (once we’d located the entrance – another trial) was housed in an impressive modern building but save for its 4-storey high exhibit representing layers of the earth created from 3000BC up to the present day, I wasn’t taken with the rest. There was an enormous amount of space for not a lot of content, and what content there was didn’t tell a coherent story. In my eyes, the equivalent museum in Murcia was definitely the winner between the two of them, even in the abscence of English translations there.

At lunch I demonstrated that I lack the ability to eat a plate of whole fish elegantly, and by the time I had a plate full of skeletons, it was 3.30pm and time to play ‘hunt the bus’. The one we’d caught this morning was a coach, rather than a town bus, which didn’t display a number on the front. It dropped us at a bus stop which displayed no information, and there wasn’t a corresponding stop across the road. Therefore, we had little idea as to which bus we needed or where we could find it. Given that position, it was surprising that we found a likely looking stop without any difficulty, and the first bus that arrived (after only about 5 minutes of waiting) was indeed the one we wanted. Ten minutes later we were back at Colin.

And now, I suppose, I should put a little thought into where to head tomorrow. A little further along the coast? Double back on ourselves to visit the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata? Or head straight into the Sierra Nevada?

Friday, 29 January 2016

Friday 29 January – Almeria(ish)

Where’s Colin? He’s at an ACSI campsite at La Garrofa, at N36 49’35”, W2 30’59”.

Yesterday’s progress down the coast amounted to, at most, 10km. As I said the other day, we’ve been moving slowly. We could happily have spent another couple of days getting to Almeria too, spending a day or so at the Cabo del Gato Parque Natural and paying a visit to Nijar on our way past. A lesson was learnt at Orihuela, though, when we found the museums to be closed on a Monday and a check of the guidebook confirmed that the same applies here. So, Almeria became our destination for today, preferably early enough to do the laundry I was unable to do in Vera the other day.

We didn’t dash straight off first thing from our lovely overnight spot, however, as there was a walk to be had, involving a mini-castle, a tower with a scarey ladder and a couple of hilltop viewpoints (more of which at

Hitting the road just before noon, with a 70km journey ahead of us (I think that’s the furthest we’ve moved in a day since we got down to southern Spain) we had every intention of breaking it up with a coffee break, just as soon as we found a shop to solve our bread/pastries shortage. First though we had some hills to get over, offering some spectacular scenery for me, and some wiggly roads for Mick:

The red line shows the wiggliness of the road, and if you look above the satnav to the very top of the snap you’ll see that the hillside being hugged by the road is so steep that it required the tarmac to be supported by pillars on the outer edge.

Arriving in the only town we were to pass through, we failed in our quest for bread. The one shop where we were able to park turned out to be closed for refurb, and parking was too difficult near to the other three. Thus we hit the motorway with stomachs rumbling.

Much road engineering! There were dozens of these cut-throughs and quite a few viaducts too.

“Take us to our campsite” I said to the satnav. “Can’t” it said “Not possible”. I tried programming in a couple of other places along the same bit of coast, but kept getting the same answer, that there was no possible route. The satnav was duly cursed. This so hot on the heels of an incident two days ago when it tried to take us 10km (drawing three and seven eighths sides of a square) to get us to an Aire which was almost next to us. All was forgiven when we discovered that actually the road to the campsite is restricted use, for residents and campsite users only. I suppose I can’t really expect the satnav to know that we were genuine users (although I do wish it had a ‘stick to the coast road unless I tell you otherwise’ setting, and there was no excuse for the ‘go 10km around the block’ incident).

There’s not much to tell of our afternoon, unless you want to hear about the laundry? Nope, thought not. We did take a little stroll locally, but the strolling options were somewhat limited. Oh, and I finally worked out (with much Googling) how to make in-app purchases of individual map tiles in ViewRanger, so next time we find ourselves out on a marked trail, I will have the ability to download the relevant bit of map, if we so choose.

As for tomorrow, and the reason we’re here at this tired and in-need-of-some-TLC campsite* (albeit sitting in a nice location just off a cove), we’re off for a shufty around Almeria.

(*this is the first place we’ve been that has been full of British vehicles. Why are they all here and not other places we’ve been? We have no idea.) 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Thursday 28 January – Mojacar

Where’s Colin? He’s sitting in another beachside car park a few kilometres south of Mojacar, at N37º4.832, W1º51.018. The sea is so close that if we were to stand by his front bumper and put a bit of oomph behind some stone throwing, we could probably hit the water.

Arriving at Mojacar this morning there was a notable difference between what we were seeing and all of the other seaside towns and villages we have driven through. There was not a bit of wasteland to be seen. Either side of us was manicured land, and on the landward side of the road stood pristine white hotels. Not nasty high-rises either, but buildings in keeping with their surroundings. According to our guidebook, Mojacar is eastern Almeria’s main resort, and is hugely popular with both Spaniards and foreign tourists, and it certainly had a holiday resort look to it.

Our interest was in Mojacar Pueblo, the hillside village which lies about 2km inland. Whilst there’s nothing there to see, other than a small church, it’s an attractive looking place, comprising white cube-like buildings sitting wrapped around a hillside, so worth a look around, I thought. By parking in a beachside car park, we even got a reasonable walk into the bargain as we took what our guidebook writer considered to be a ‘punishing hike’ but I would just class as a bit of an uphill walk. Good quality pavements certainly took it out of the category of ‘hike’ in my view:

The blob of white in the middle of that photo is the village, and here it is closer to:

A wander around was had, the view was admired from the east-facing viewing platform…

… and we solicited information from the Tourist Office on what walking routes there are nearby. We didn’t come away with a map, as had been the case in Orihuelo, but we were given a good few sheets of printed information. We would have gone straight off to do the short walk around Mojacar gardens, except that by the time we sussed out where it started we were on the wrong side of the hill and lunchtime was upon us, so back down the hill we went to raid Colin’s fridge.

Twenty eight degrees was the temperature in Colin when we reached him, making me glad we’d closed his blinds before we went out, or it would have been unbearable. As it went, there was a cooling breeze to the day, so a few minutes with the side-door open soon had us back to the low-twenties inside.

The afternoon saw us move along the coast to try to find where one of the other recommended walks starts. The spot was found, and a few minutes later we found our overnight spot, which sits by Macenas Castle. “Hold on!” thought I, “that sounds familiar”. Consultation with the walk notes confirmed that the route we’d intended to take tomorrow comes through this very car park. Sorted – we’ll just go and do the second half of it in the morning (having now worked out that by ‘circular walk of 10km’ they mean ‘an out-and-back route totalling 10km’, with all of the interesting features lying at this end).

I mentioned the other day the quality of some of the English translations on information signs, and whilst I stress again that I’m grateful for any information given in a language I can understand, we couldn’t help but have a smile at some of the sentences in the Macenas Castle description, reproduced below:

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Wednesday 27 January - Vera

Where’s Colin? He’s at a commercial Aire just outside of the town of Vera, at N37º14.932, W1º51.251. I’m not sure what the basic price is but including electricity it’s €11. It’s a large place for an Aire, with 120 places. Being built on a hill, it’s terraced and we’re quite high up, which is good – except for the fact that all of the facilities are right down at the bottom.

Let’s start today with a look at the key components of Colin’s reference library:IMG_0547

A road atlas, a Rough Guide, a copy of All the Aires and Volume 2 of the ACSI camp site guides.

Having no forward plan for this trip, I refer to all of these often, and during last nights episode of flicking through the pages it came to my attention that there’s a dearth of Aires and ACSI campsites for the next chunk of our journey. Whilst it’s possible that that ‘chunk’ could be completed within a day, it’s also possible (based on experience to date) that it could take us several. It’s also not escaped my attention that, after 17 days on the road, the laundry bag was at the point of ‘a full load’ and certain items of clothing are getting a bit pongy (the benefit of never seeing the same people two days in a row is that we can just keep wearing the same clothes day after day, without anyone save ourselves being aware of the repetition, until they become offensive).

So, today’s plan, which required a 10km diversion inland, was based solely on doing some laundry.

Arriving at the Aire at 11am, our check-in became a little disjointed and rushed when Mick came into the office to tell me that Colin was leaking. At a glance, I immediately knew what had happened – Colin was parked on a steep hill with his rear nearside (or offside in mainland Europe, I suppose) wheel being the lowest down. In the rear nearside of his dirty water tank is the connection point for the shower-room sink. That connection came adrift at least a year and a half ago, and I’ve not been moved to do anything about it because we have never yet used that sink. However, if his dirty tank is full – or is half full and he’s parked at a particular angle – then the missing inflow connection will act as an overflow, and that’s exactly what had happened. We hastened to the service point to empty his tank (incidentally, Colin has the worst designed dirty water emptying system that we’ve seen on any motorhome, ever. Most motorhomes empty their tank at a gush within a couple of minutes; we take about a week and a half of a slow trickle through a small-bore tube and tap).

I then hastened to the laundry, where I found seven machines, two of which were out of order and the rest were in use. I waited patiently as various people came in, looked at their machines, tutted and left. It was only when two of the machines had finished and a woman came to collect her washing that I learned that the machines were taking between 2 hours 20 and 4 hours to complete a wash cycle, and the spin speeds were so slow that the loads were coming out wet. It was 12.25 by this time, and the site has no drier, so I needed time to get stuff dry in the sun. On the plus side, I saved €5, as I chose the most urgently needed items out of the washbag and did them by hand. An hour later we had landry scattered all about our pitch (really wish I’d bought a folding rotary airer!) and as our little drying rack requires one of Colin’s windows to be open, we’ve not been able to go out, meaning that our afternoon is looking like this:


Back to the coast again tomorrow. The bit that we drove along today was very picturesque and the road atlas has the next section highlighted as being similarly so.


View from our pitch (omitting the chainlink fence which lies between us and this).

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Tuesday 26 January - El Pozo del Esparto

Where’s Colin? He’s gatecrashed a French motorhome gathering just outside of El Pozo del Esparta. I think he’s at N37º19’30”, W1º41’52”.

After our night feeling a bit cheeky by kipping in the very well-kept car park of the Sanctuary Santa Eulalia last night, I compounded our cheek this morning by sneaking out before light to empty Colin’s toilet in the Sanctuary’s toilets (and I hope it goes without saying that I left absolutely no trace of my cheek). With Colin’s toilet capacity back up to 3 days, more flexibility has been gained as to where we stay tonight and tomorrow.

Just as daylight was beginning to creep into the day, four cleaners arrived to set to work again to clear up the imperceptible bit of dust and the few leaves which had settled on the Sanctuary’s grounds since they finished work yesterday lunchtime. It wasn’t a nice day for them, with the low cloud unable quite to contain its water, releasing a light mizzle on the world.

For us, the weather didn’t make us feel inclined to go outside, so we headed to the town of Totana, hoping it would be a bit drier down there. It wasn’t, so we didn’t stop on our way through the town (or at least, only to the extent required to negotiate a very tight turn when we found both the road ahead and the easiest escape route blocked by roadworks).

“Let’s go to Lorca instead” I said, and we did. An interesting place it was too. Any town which has gone to the trouble of putting tri-lingual information signs (Spanish, English and French) outside of every building or square of note, is a winner in my eyes. They had even gone to the extra trouble of having a fluent English speaker write the English translations. I don’t mean to criticise the other places we’ve been, as it’s entirely my own fault that I speak no Spanish, and I would always rather there be an attempt at an English translation than not.

The other interesting side to Lorca stems from recent disaster, in that the town was hit by an earthquake in May 2011, which did significant damage to the old town. Evidence still remains, with many facades (with no building left behind) held up by substantial steelwork…

…and where buildings have been demolished, the newly exposed parts of the adjoining buildings have been sealed with expanding foam:

Construction was going on all over the town as we walked through.

In spite of the damage, there are still plenty of interesting buildings to be seen, although it was difficult to take a photo of most of them without including cranes and construction, so I’ll just include one of what is now the town hall:

Leaving Lorca, it was back to the coast and on our way, spread out before us was an enormous plain covered in white sheeting. Comprising polythene greenhouses and white-mesh ‘sheds’, all of the agriculture here (mainly tomatoes, although I did spot some cherry trees too) seems to go on under some sort of white covering. What I can’t think how to convey is the extent of it; it was literally miles upon miles of white, in what would otherwise have been a desert landscape.

Having lunched in a beach-front side-road in Aguilas, with fine sea views, we then set about finding somewhere suitable to park for the night. The first place we looked we rejected for lack of interest (it was a semi-urban car park with nothing to recommend it). The second place was beach side and had an ‘interesting’ off road approach. We actually got as far as parking up there before deciding that we could do better (cue a repeat of the interesting off-road experience for our exit; I’m not sure Colin’s a fan of off-roading…). We weren’t even driving the road where we’ve ended up, but were slightly inland when I spotted a gathering of motorhomes in a perfectly sensible looking position, just back from the beach and sitting just off the tarmac. We doubled back on ourselves down a tiny lane to join them, finding in so doing that we were gate-crashing another French gathering. Much playing of boule has gone on amongst them.

Taking a walk for a mile or so along the beachside prom we discovered that we are just outside another ghost town. Houses were crammed in along that mile and we saw only half a dozen that gave indications of being currently in use. I’d be interested in seeing some of these places in summer, when I assume they do come alive.  

(Forgot to mention – we also had a stop at a Decathlon store today, as I’m in need of a pair of sandals. The sandal mission was not a success (presumably because it’s deep mid-winter, so why would anyone want open footwear…), but we did see the best non-standard motorhome of the trip so far in the car park:


Monday, 25 January 2016

Monday 25 January – N of Totana

Where’s Colin? He’s sitting in an immaculate car park at the Sanctuary of Santa Eulalia, at N37º48.004, W1º 33. 507.

After the microlights ceased their flights overhead at sundown, and after the local boys playing with powerful-sounding remote controlled cars (yep, I did want to have a go), a silent night was had in our car park, which gained even more vans as darkness fell. By nine thirty this morinng they were starting to roll and we weren’t far behind the front runners. Pulling in at a supermarket only a few kilometres later (something we seem to be doing on a daily basis; we really ought to start food planning a little bit better!) it was amusing to see a few of our night-time neighbours already there and even more join the row of vans whilst we were inside. They must have been heading in a different direction, though (probably sticking to the coast, whereas we were going inland) as once we left we saw not another motorhome all day.

For us, we were off to the hills north of Totana, of which this is a little snapshot…

 …and arriving at the position I had noted as a car park where it was possible to stay overnight, we found a ‘recreation area’ full of substantial stone picnic benches and even more substantial barbecues. Immediately off for a look around we went, finding across the road at the Sanctuary of Santa Eulalia an immaculate block-paved car park (there are twelve bins visible from Colin), complete with a man sweeping the greenery and making it even more immaculate. As the car park also houses an information sign about two walks which start from here, we thought we may as well move over into the nicer car park, at least for the day.

A good chunk of the day was spent on the two walks (more of which at, followed by a look around the church. It’s a small one, with a wooden vaulted ceiling, and may not be that remarkable if it wasn’t for the internal walls, of which every inch is covered in painted scenes. This is an awful photo, but it’s the only one I took and hopefully gives some sort of an impression of it:

We’ve only seen a couple of other cars sharing our car park throughout the day, but this place must be popular at some times of year – a statement I make based purely on the extent of the toilet facilities (also immaculate). There is also a restaurant and a hotel, currently shut up. Remarkably, the whole place is graffiti-free too.

Here's a snap of the Sanctuary...

Taken on our way to visit this:

Having walked past four different dirt car parks in recreation areas today, we should perhaps have moved to one of them for the night, but it feels nicer being in this pretty car park, even if at the same time it feels like we shouldn’t really be here. At least if we do have to move later we know of plenty of other local options.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Sunday 24 January – Isla Plana and Belnuevo

Where’s Colin? He’s in a very large car park behind the beach at Belnuevo, at N37º33.850, W1º 18.643.

Our first stop this morning, at the attractive place of Isla Plana, only came about because about a few seconds after I spotted a car park, I saw an open supermarket (on a Sunday!), so Colin was quickly swung around, our onion deficiency was resolved and we had a walk around. Here’s a bit of a panoramic shot:

We’d driven though those hills to get to Isla Plana, although Mick did comment on the way that it was causing rather a hit on our miles per gallon. “Worth it, for the scenery” I replied, although Mick wasn’t finding it so much so, concentrating on the road (and the constantly changing speed limits) to the exclusion of being able to appreciate our surroundings. The 6km back down to the sea would have partially redeemed the MPG erosion, if it hadn’t been for the huge hairpin bends complete with speed limits down to 20kph (advisory 10 kph) in one place.

Having exhausted the sea-front walking in Isla Plana, on we moved … and got all of three minutes down a road, when a nice flat parking area above a beach, and with a stunning sea view, presented itself, and we decided to stop for another stroll and for lunch. Discovering a small band of motorhomes just another minute further along the coast, we did consider going and joining them in their lovely spot, in spite of the ‘no camping’ signs, but the day was still young so eventually we stirred ourselves to continue further south. We got about another 10km, before spotting a few motorhomes parked in a huge car park, with this notable natural feature just a few paces away:

And here it is slightly closer to (the wheel of someone’s bike in the bottom left hand corner handily gives a bit of scale):

Up to the top of the rocky outcrop we walked, giving a bird’s eye view of Colin (for once not the smallest motorhome in the group photo!) and the huge (but largely empty) car park:

We’re rather bamboozled by the signage in this car park and, even after extensive Googling, are not quite sure whether the signs in this section mean that only motorhomes can park here, or that motorhomes are not allowed to park here. Based on different signs elsewhere, we think it’s the former. If we are doing something unlawful, then we’re in good company (hmmm, now I think about it, none of the other vehicles here is Spanish; maybe we are all misunderstanding the signs!).

Aside from the hoodooey rock formation just to the side of us, there’s a sizeable beach across the road too. It’s certainly an attractive spot to while away the late part of the day:

So, we didn’t get very far today – probably not more than 30km from where we started (and as the crow flies, possibly not even that). In fact, nine days after we first hit the coast on Page 85 of our road atlas, we’re still just about on that page. But, we don’t have to be anywhere by any specific date (except on a Eurotunnel early in March), so moving on by only a few miles a day is not a problem.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Saturday 23 January - Cartagena

Where’s Colin? He’s at a commercial Aire on the outskirts of Cartagena at N37º39.219’, W1º0.208’. It’s €10 including electricity, wifi, toilets and showers, as well as having a lounge with sofas, games, books and a large dining table.

I hadn’t intended for us to visit Cartagena, as the write up in our guidebook didn’t make me think it would be worth the effort. However, having driven out first thing to the spit of land which encloses the Mar Menor and established that it didn’t seem that there was anything there to hold our interest, we revisited the campsite and Aire books and, given the choice of a 950-pitch mini-city in La Manga or a 28-pitch Aire on the edge of Cartagena, we opted for the latter with fingers crossed that there would be space.

Hitting it lucky with our timing, we secured the very last pitch, with three other motorhomes being turned away over the course of the next twenty minutes. Even more lucky with our timing, the bread van arrived just after us, which solved our most pressing store cupboard deficiency.

Two options then lay before us: 1) I could do some laundry; or 2) we could catch the 1pm bus into town. As the bus stop was only a five minute walk away, it would have been silly not to at least take a glance at the town. Well, what a pleasant surprise it was! My low expectations were entirely exceeded by this interesting, historical place.

Starting with a walk through the old town towards the harbour, pausing only for a Menu del Dia lunch*, we passed plenty of interesting buildings, like this one:


In search of the castle, past the harbour we went, which, in this snap looks like it focusses on the leisure market…


…but looking left or right shows the industrial elements of the town:


Eventually we did locate the castle (of which I failed to take a single photo) and after a bit of contemplation decided to splash out €3.75 each to go inside. Whilst the history of fortification on that site is a very long one, the last ‘proper’ castle was demolished in the late 19th century, and the current keep was rebuilt in the 1980s, with various other bits having subsequently been excavated. As it went, it wasn’t the building itself which made it well worth the admission fee, but two other factors: firstly the excellent views given of the city from the top of the keep, which showed off a good handful of nearby historic sites…


…and secondly the ‘history of Cartagena’ exhibition housed within the building, which includes English translations on all of the written and audiovisual exhibits.

A full tour of the castle grounds was omitted, as time was marching on by the time we got out of the paid-for bit of the castle, and by chance our return route back to the old town took us right past this:


We had considered whether to go to the Roman Theatre museum, mainly to see the amphitheatre, so it was a bonus to find that we could get a good view of it from various angles without any need to try to squeeze in another museum visit.

To round the day off, we happened to pass this too:


I think I’ve already mentioned how almost every surface in Spain seems to be considered fair game for awful grafitti (tagging and general scrawl), so it was nice to see a piece of art like this on a city wall (and no tagging over the top of it! Given that information signs and ancient monuments seem to be considered as fair game just as much as walls, lamposts, benches and trees, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find this defaced too).

There was more we could have seen in the town (particularly if we’d arrived during the week, or earlier in the day, in which case we would have visited the Naval Museum), but for today we had run out of time, so declaring our visit to the city to have been worthwhile, off we toddled back to the bus stop. It was dark (and the temperature collapsing) by the time we walked the little lane back to Colin.

(*On the next table to us at lunch was a British trio who kept us entertained by their horror at the food they were served. Like us, they started with a mixed salad. It was far from the best presented mixed salad I’ve ever had, but it was fresh and inoffensive, yet they stirred their plates around a little bit and they were all taken away largely uneaten. Then came two plates of Paella (same as us), plus one plate of fish and squid. The look of disdain on the two women’s faces was priceless, as they poked through what they had been served. Those plates also went back largely uneaten, although the chap did make a decent job of his (of course, our plates went back clean on all courses, save for the shells). Having had a good gander at my creme caramel for pudding, the two women opted for the same. The older woman had a decent taste of hers; the younger again turned her nose up. Really, what is the point of going out for a meal if you’re not prepared to try anything?! Positively bizarre it was. It made Mick want to take them on a good long walk, feeling sure they’d be prepared to forego their fussiness and eat anything at the end of it!)

Friday, 22 January 2016

Friday 22 January - Los Alcazares

Where’s Colin? He's exactly where he was yesterday.

What was that I said yesterday about moving on this morning? After a very quiet night in this motorhome-infested ghost town (save for the bin lorry coming around at 1.50am, as seems to be common practice), Mick's preference was to stay another day, so we did.

Today's exercise took us both north and south along the coast, as well as to some local shops to furnish us with baked goodies for elevenses. It was rather nice out as we headed south this morning:

By noon a layer of cloud started to form, giving us a cooler afternoon (still nice and warm, but not hot like yesterday).

The early afternoon was mainly filled with much lounging, broken up when a huge bus of a motorhome decided to squeeze in between us and the bins on the corner. It was a bit alarming (in the manner of me exclaiming "woah" even though I couldn't possibly be heard) to see such a huge back end reversing to within an inch of Colin's bumper. They did move forward a bit, and then a bit more when they realised they were so close that we couldn't quite fully open our back doors. Getting out of our space tomorrow might take some manoeuvring too:

Colin suddenly feels very small again

Not long later the British couple who stopped to chat yesterday came by again, telling us that lots of motorhomes in the town were being moved on by the police. My own observations from walking around yesterday and today make me suspect a bit of misinformation based on either bad assumptions or Chinese whispers - a bit like the people who delight in telling you (completely inaccurately) that your proposed walk route is too far/too hard/will be blighted by bad weather/terrain.

Another beachside stroll completed our day, together with a bit of thought as to where we'll head tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Thursday 21 January - Los Alcazares

Where's Colin? He's parked on the road at N37 45.414 W0 49.752.

Two options were contemplated before we made a move from our lemon grove this morning: 1) to head for some hills west of Murcia, taking the direct route; or 2) to head for those same hills via the rather indirect two-sides-of-a-triangle route, taking in another chunk of coast on the way. Option 2 won and having established that our rather nice Aire was lacking in one essential amenity (namely: drinking water), off we set, stopping at a Lidl en-route to pick up an 8-litre bottle of water for 75c.

The coast was first met at Santiago de la Ribera, but the only places we could find to park there weren’t at all picturesque, so (as desperate as I was to tuck into the baked goodies which had jumped into our trolley in Lidl) we continued on to the next resort of Los Alcazares. Both places sit on the Mar Menor (the Lesser Sea), which is a big lagoon with just the smallest gap connecting it to the Mediterranean Sea. It's apparently a popular seaside destination for inland Murcians, although not in winter, based on our observations.

Parking on the seafront at Los Alcazares proved easy and having sent Mick out with the camera whilst I put the kettle on, he came back within a couple of minutes saying that there were a few other motorhomes parked just up the road and that he thought we should stay for the day & night, showing me this photo by way of justification for the proposal:

We soon relocated up to the other end of the road, to join the other motorhomes (not so much a herding instinct as the fact that we were originally parked across a number of spaces; we moved to an area of parallel parking).

Taking ourselves off out for a walk we came to realise two things:

1) this is a place which has been comprehensively taken over by motorhomes. There weren’t just the handful we had originally seen, but dozens and dozens lining the streets, not to mention 100 filling the official Aire (which we didn’t know about until we chatted to a couple of other Brits much later); and

2) this is a place which has almost no residents in winter.  You can walk along entire streets with only a couple of cars parked and with almost every house shut up.

I suspect that the two things go hand in hand. If people were in residence then objections would be made to these travelling folk who pitch up here (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them stay for weeks at a time, and we’ve certainly seen many who are camping, not parking. Who would want that opposite their house?), but with so few people to object, it’s probably considered better for the motorhomers to be here than somewhere more inconvenient to the locals. Of course, it’s not a bad thing for the town in general, as I’m sure the bars and restaurants on the seafront would not be open and doing such a trade if it wasn’t for these visitors.

So, anyway, our walk took us all the way north along the wide and very well presented promenade, past what appears to be a huge building site, long ago abandoned after just the boundary wall and the individual plot gateways were put in. The wall now sits with the paint flaking and the gates thinking about rusting. The prom then ended, but a dirt path continued, which took us onto a walkway in a sea-swamp sort of an area:

I kept expecting the boardwalk to end, or to loop around, but it didn’t, so eventually we turned, taking a bit of a detour on the way back to pop up a viewing ‘tower’ (only one storey high, but then the rest of the land is flat hereabouts). This was the view looking down:


It was a better vista looking back the way we had just come:

After a very warm afternoon with our heads in our books, Mick repeated our earlier walk but this time at a run. I was more sedate and took a pre-sunset stroll south down the seafront towards the main bit of the town (we’re on the very edge of it here). It is all very lovely, but we’re not going to outstay our welcome, and will move on in the morning.

One of a few substantial new houses which seem to have been abandoned when nearly built. The boundary walls now stand grafittied, whilst nice neat houses sit either side.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Wednesday 20 January - Murcia

Where’s Colin? He’s not moved a single inch from yesterday.
Oranges and lemons! Never have I seen so many! Our morning started by walking down lanes bordered by fields of lemon trees (which, incidentally, hold an awful lot of lemons per tree*) to the nearby village of Alquerias, where we caught a bus which took us along streets lined with orange trees to the city of Murcia, whose pavements are also the home to lines of orange trees, like this:
We had a few things to see in Murcia so having located the cathedral…
…and stopped for coffee/tea in the square from which the above photo was taken, we decided to leave the inside of the cathedral until later, due to my mistaken belief that it was open all day, whereas I knew that the furthest-away museum would close from 2pm to 5pm.
So, off we went to the Museo Arqueologico, which is somewhere I wouldn’t have been fussed about seeing if there had been an entrance fee, but as it was free thought we may as well have a quick look. It turned out to be surprisingly interesting, such that we spent a good chunk of time there, and undoubtedly would have been even better if we could have understood any of the displayed information. (Actually, there were an awful lot of words that even as non-Spanish speakers we could take a guess at, and thus we were able to get the gist of most of the exhibits, with Google Translate filling in some of the gaps when we were particularly intrigued by something.)
Purely based on their locations around the city we opted for the Museo de Bellas Artes next, where the first two floors, displaying 16th and 17th century renaissance art, really weren’t my cup of tea, but I did like the top floor, which was mainly 19th century.
By this time we re-emerged on the street, the bells were chiming 2pm and I was ready to eat a scabby dog, so it was back to the cathedral square for a Menu del Dia which we’d eyed up earlier in the day. Two huge mixed salad starters (I’m sure I’ve been served smaller salad main courses), the main courses shown below, a pudding each, a drink each, followed by a coffee each, all for €11 a head. I knew that there were bargainacious menus del dia to be had in Spain, but I’m still taken aback by the quantities.
As you may be able to tell, the sun was shining as I took that photo at our outside table, and at the point that we sat down there had been no sign of the showers which had been forecast for today. Then it started to get a bit dark to the south and we’d barely dipped our spoons into our puddings when the rain started. Canopies were quickly deployed by the waiters and by the time we got onto coffee we were sitting in a fully enclosed outdoor room, complete with a heater. Within a quarter of an hour, the sun was back and stayed for the rest of the day.
Having lunched about 30 paces from the entrance to the cathedral, it was apparent that it was no longer open, scuppering my post-lunch plan. A double check of the guide book told me that I’d misread, and rather than being open all day it actually closes from 1pm until 6pm. It wasn’t going to be feasible to hang around (to have to walk the little roads back to the campsite in the dark), so off we went for a walk along the river before catching the next bus back. By way of some sort of public transport torture, on this perfectly warm day the bus had the heating on full blast, together with a temperature display to tell us we were sweating uncomfortably in a stuffy 26 degrees.
It was gone 5pm when we got back to Colin, finding that he’d been joined during the day by neighbours on both sides. Don’t they make him look tiny?!
This Commercial Aire is split into two compounds and I’m calling ours the French Enclave, as that is the nationality of the majority of the occupants, with the remainder being one Dutch, one Belgian, one Irish and us.
(*some of those lemon trees also held oranges, we assume by virtue of some grafting having gone on, rather than by a freak of nature.)