Wednesday, 16 May 2012

IATTOUR April 24-May 5 Spain to Lisbon (republished)

 And...all is well thanks to a skillful shifting of the photos onto another computer.  Here is the visual update for the Spain through to Lisbon portion of the trip:

Off-roading!  This should have been our 1st clue.

After successfully navigating the Pyrenee's and coming in the backdoor to Barcelona, Holly our GPS had us offroading through the hill's and startling a shepherd tending his goats on this track in the National Park...we made it through with one little scrape on a high spot to our rental house in the hills.  Our landlord was amazed at the feat!   Good thing we didn't repeat the Montana those GPS...sometimes they are evil.

Score! Elaine picked out a winner of a location with stunning valley views.  We grubbed and wined up and had a BBQ on the patio how nice.  Our neighbour had 5 Newfie dogs always looking for attention and were quiet, unlike the rest of the vicinity's dogs who were quick to bark and not stop, especially in the wee hours (the only negative on the house).
The next day we were up and at'em early with Ron and Wendy and off to Montserrat, the mountain top monastery. We had a great day of trekking on the mountain top and along the paths to other small shrines.  The day was topped off by hearing the boys choirs in the cathedral.  The place was packed I cannot imagine it in the peak season.  I forgot to mention on our way into Barcelona, just about every major highway is in the midst of major construction, so there are diversions everywhere.  Today this was no exception, I lost count of how many attempts were made to get back to  our house...but finally we muddled our way back....pretty tired but very relaxed in our mountain hideaway.

On Thursday April 26 we were off to explore Barcelona.  Given the size and scope of the venue, we opted to partake in one of the Hop on Hop off tours that circled all the major sites.  

It soon became apparent that this city is all about Gaudi architectural wonders from the La Sagrada Familia; La Pedrera to Park Guell....mad or genius it is open to discussion, but still amazing to look at in awe.  

The Rambla is a wonderful avenue to stroll and take in the performers and people.  This extends down to the waterfront with >10km of beachfront to stroll.  The day was perfect and not to be deterred, Elaine and Wendy were stripped down to their gaunch and hit the waves.  Tony was somewhat uncomfortable, but Wendy's response was that middle age women are invisible!  seemed to work, I guess the onlookers on the beach were watching the topless bunnies.

Evening view from our place
Friday was Ron and Wendy's final day on their trip, so we headed up the mountain behind our house to the monastery perched atop call "la Mola".  

After a few wrong turns we made it to the top in a couple of hours.  The area has a lot of caves and bolted climbing routes that we saw along the way.  

On our way up we had to move aside for the pack team of mules coming down...this is how the restaurant at the top was re-provisioned.  We were surprised by the number of people trekking/running to the top along with a number of school groups.  

The rain held off until we reached back to the house.  We headed into the local village to do a bit of a reconnoiter and pick up the fixings for another scrumptious BBQ and final toast.
Dance of the 12 tablecloths!

Ron and Wendy's flight was early on Saturday morning, so we decided to pack up and hit the road after dropping them off at the Barcelona airport.  For the most part, the GPS has been an invaluable tool and saved our bacon many a time, today unerringly got us to the airport without a miss.  We said our goodbyes and plugged in our next location on the north coast of Spain; San Sabastian.  We have been without internet for the last 4 days, so did not know what was waiting for us at the end of this road.  

As we made our way through Pamplona in the pouring rain with a pit stop to clean up the spilled milk in the back of the car yuk!  It continued to rain, but harder.  

We rolled into San Sabastian in a full blown gale and a very busy weekend.  We found an internet cafe and did a bit of research, no rooms in our price range to be had in town and the forecast was for 4 more days of the same.  A command decision was made, find some lodging for the night then head south in the morning.  We found a hosteleria on one of the moutain roads down to Pamplona that turned out to be a great little find.

Off the next day south towards Granada, possibly to see the Al Alhambra.  The rain was off and on all day, but the worst was a severe dump of about 4 cm of hail, fortunately we had slowed down, but there was about a 6 car pile up as a result.  Very neat to see all the alternate energy projects along the way from wind farms, to various types of solar (electricity, steam and hot water).  After about 7 hours of driving I had enough and we found another roadside hosteleria, this time not so good, but was OK.  We were able to determine that you could not get into the Al Alhambra without prior reservations, so we diverted to Cordoba enroute to Torremolinos.

The weather the next morning was still overcast and pretty cold (Elaine had her vest on), as we headed down the road after our minimalist breakfast of coffee and a croissant.  The weather improved immensely as we drove along with full on sun breaking out as we arrived into Cordoba.  This is a charming city with some stunning architecture.  

We enjoyed the ambiance of the quaint streets and visiting the Mezquita mosque and Cathedral of Cordoba.  What an exquisite structure with the moorish architecture...a must see...too bad we don't have photos right now!  There was also a festival of the cross on at this time with each community preparing a display along with a bar...basically it was a pub crawl through the town..too bad I still had to drive 2 hours.  

The other thing we really noticed was how fashionably dressed a majority of the inhabitants in the centre core were...we felt kinda shabby...oh well tourists eh!  

Off to Torremolinos for 4 days.  This is retracing old haunts of 30+ years ago when we were through here on a slightly different budget.  Oh my how things have grown in 30 years...barely remembered the place, but we had a great time on the esplanade and exploring the town.
The Costa del Sol stip

Our major trip while in Torremolinos was a day trip down to Gibraltar to visit the rock.  We were in the queue to clear customs, but soon found out it was better to park on the Spain side and walk across the border.  

The first thing you do when you clear customs is you walk across the main runway of the Gibraltar airport. We wandered through town and took the cable car to the top of the rock, what a great view of the straits.  

Lots of pictures of the Barbary Apes..and watching the foolish tourists who did not heed the warnings of how sneaky these buggers were at snatching what ever...we saw a number of incidents.  On our way out of town we partook in the duty free extravaganza in getting a few bottles of single malt scotch at super prices.  
Costa Del Sol in distance

The view from Gibraltar
The weather was sort of up and down, but all in all OK for our relaxing bit.  We managed to find the hotel we stayed at way back when, but took a while to figure out with some of the structural changes...a blast from the past and some great memories.

On our way out of Torremolinos, we headed up through Ronda to visit the Palaeolithic cave paintings at Cueva de la Pileta (  We were not too sure what we were going to find here, but what a treasure. 

This is a family operated site up in the mountains, our tour guide was the great granddaughter of the discoverer of the caves, and a trained archaeologist.  These caves are spectacular even without the range of paintings, exceeding the Carlsbad Caverns in grandeur, but the paintings were awe inspiring! To think that Cro-Magnon man had created these images...too much.  We had a great discussion with our Norwegian tour mates.  
Paelolithic and Neolithic Art...oh my!

The country side in Andalusia is rugged and beautiful...this is our favorite region of Spain by far.  After this we are off to Sevilla another jewel.  Our hotel is a stones through from the historic centre and we get to view the Alcazar complex as a compromise to the Al Alhambra...what a treat and wow the gardens are spectacular.  This is another great walking city.

Tiny Flamenco Tots in Sevilla

We were on our way to meet up with Mina and Diane in Lisbon, so had another long day of driving from Seville to Lisbon on Saturday May 5.  
We stopped a few places along the way at a few small towns which are having the weekly markets to pick up some great cheeses to go along with the regional wines.  

Spring flowers near Evora

We made our way into Lisboa to our hotel for the night near the zoo.  Turns out we were in a business hotel with all the amenities for a pretty reasonable price.  The neighborhood was quite nice for our evening stroll.

On the morning of May 6, we picked up Mina from the Lisboa airport and came back to the hotel for Mina to freshen up, then headed off to the Hotel Roma downtown.  It was a great day for wandering.  We collected Dianne in the late afternoon, then headed out for another wander before they both powered down.  aaahhhh Portugal...the next chapter.
Altogether now!