Saturday 31 October 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Our campsite appeared to be in an isolated area to the north of Madrid. However, It is enormous place with hundreds of camping so spaces, so there must be a reason why it is here.
We found out today what that reason is. We had never heard of it, but we were within walking distance of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
It is a royal palace and monastery built by King Philip II in the 1500's. It is a monster of a building and totally dominates the local area.
It has over 1,200 doors, 2500 or more windows, and loads of other facts that we couldn't quite hear on our audio guide. As we walked around we kept bumping into a very loud Spanish tourist guide with her group, and she completely overwhelmed our little tape machine.
We managed to escape her in a few places, one of which was a giant mausoleum that was built under the palace.
It was a very spooky place to visit on Halloween and it held the coffins of almost 500 years of Spanish royalty.
We also visited rooms full of priceless paintings by El Greco, Tintoretto, etc, and  beautiful ceiling frescoes.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera and tried to take photos on my tablet, but I didn't realise that I had put it in video mode. When playing it back I found out that I had made lots of little videos of my feet as I marched around, and in one I am muttering in a very disturbing way to myself.
It's all very odd.
Ps, thanks to Daz for the loan of his photos.

Friday 30 October 2015

Posing in Madrid

After we got blown off route yesterday, we ended up staying fairly near to Madrid. There was a bus from the main road next to our campsite, so we thought it would be a waste not to visit the Spanish capital.
It was a lovely day and we wandered around the main tourist areas enjoying the sunshine and idly people watching. My favourite was this group of headless dancers.
We went to the Mercado de San Miguel for lunch. It is an indoor market that is filled with wine, beer, cheese, fish and tapas bars. You can go to any of the stalls, buy some lunch and then crowd around the tables to eat. It has a really friendly atmosphere and we stayed for wine and paella.
Afterwards we did a bit of shopping for the van, replacing broken crockery and treating ourselves to some bits and bobs.
Finally we headed towards the view on pic 3 which was right next to our bus station.
It wasn't our most productive day ever, and we could have made a bit more effort on the sightseeing front, but some days it just doesn't happen. Nice day out though.

Thursday 29 October 2015


We drove for four hours today to the ancient town of Segovia. It is about 80kms north of Madrid and I have wanted to visit it for ages.
We pulled up to the gates of the campsite tired, hungry and dying for the loo, and then found out that it had closed for the winter.
The nearest open campsite was over an hours drive away, so we had to quickly change our plans.
We found a place to park the van, but it was a good 40 minute walk each way from the touristy centre.
We had been going to spend three nights here, but in the end we only had about one hour!
Segovia was as good as I expected and we raced around it glancing at an amazing aqueduct, a fairytale castle, a cathedral and views of the surrounding countryside.
We then got back into the campervan and fortunately when we arrived at the the next campsite it was still open.
Segovia will have to go back on my 'to visit' list.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Water features at the Monasterio

The first thing we did when we reached the Monasterio was to head for the water walk. It started with lovely waterfalls and little streams and then we got to a high edge where the water disappeared with a roar.
I looked over the edge, pic 3, and realised that we had to follow the torrent down to the bottom.
The steps went down into a dark hole, pic 4, although there were a few lights and the occasional window to look out at the water.
We were nearly at ground level when we came across a cave that was right behind the waterfall. The spray was soaking us, and as we walked to the back of the cave the spray stopped, but drips from the roof turned into a shower. There was hardly any lights so we had to shuffle carefully along. It was pretty exciting although I was worried in case there was any bats.
Eventually we made our way back towards the daylight, although to get there we had to go through a long wet tunnel.
We were then on the other bank of the river and found lots of trout ponds and a large lake.
The whole place was fantastic and we spent a couple of hours following the marked route, not knowing what to expect around each turn.

Monasterio de Piedra

We had never heard of the Monasterio de Piedra, but around here it is a major tourist attraction, although apparently not at the end of October. Darren happened to read about it when we were looking for campsites and it seemed worth a look.
We set out to walk to it this morning, and we took a cross country route following a pathway led us past amazingly colourful rocks and trees. There was an incredible church perched on top of a seam of striped rocks that was angled at 45 degrees from the valley floor.
We did not see another person en route, but there was a few other tourists at the Monasterio. It is set at the end of the valley with a river, waterfalls and trout lakes. We went to see this first, and it was so good that I am writing a separate blog about it.
Back to the Monastery - it took 23 years to be built and the Monks moved in in 1218. They lived there for over 700 years, but in 1835 the Monastery and surrounding land was confiscated by the Minister of Taxes who sold them at auction to raise funds for the State.
The leaflet didn't explain the obvious difficult questions; what happened to the Monks, how the Minister of Taxes got away with it, or why a lot of it is in ruins.
Oh well, that is Spain for you.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Nuevalos - middle of nowhere

We are on our way through the centre of Spain and have stopped in the middle of nowhere.
We drove for miles this morning and hardly saw another person, car or campervan. Our campsite was also completely deserted, apart from a little tent, when we arrived. It means that we have at least 10 toilets and showers each, although another van has turned up this afternoon.
We have been out exploring and the countryside is beautiful. The only downside were the buzzy flies that followed us around for a while, but they disappeared once the wind got up.

Monday 26 October 2015

Zaragoza from the front

After my photos from the backstreets of Zaragoza yesterday, I thought that I must show you the front today.
It is an incredible place with a Plaza that stretches at least 800 metres.
It starts with at one end with Roman ruins, then a tower that rivals Piza for the angle that it leans at. Then comes a massive Basilica, Town Hall, museum, statue of Goya, and then another amazing church.
In the middle of the Plaza are water features, and bars and restaurants line the opposite side.
There is also a picturesque river and dozens of other beautiful buildings scattered across the town.
It is very Spanish and there are very few tourists around at the moment. Prices are incredibly reasonable and we stopped twice today, once for a glass of wine and a sandwich (€4.20 in total) and then for coffee, churros and chocolate that was again less than €5.
The artist Goya is probably Zaragoza's most famous son and we visited a gallery dedicated to his paintings. I am not sure about him though, and I think that I preferred the gallery building to the actual paintings.
We had a great day out though, which including bus fares, gazing at beautiful buildings, art gallery entrance fee and the two refreshment stops came to only €25, or £18.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Back in Zaragoza

I had an easy journey from Nottingham to Zaragoza yesterday. 6.15am tram into town, 7.00am bus to Stansted Airport, 1.25pm flight to Zaragoza and finally 4.45pm pick up from the airport by Daz. Fantastic to see him.
Today we went to Zaragoza. Keen blog readers might remember that we visited the town last May, and it is as spectacular as I remember.
Today my eye was caught by the many brilliant murals around the town. For some reason a few buildings have been pulled down, and instead of the remaining end looking tatty, imaginative murals have been painted on the walls.
I hope that eventually new buildings will be built in the gaps, but in the meantime they look great.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

On the tram in Nottingham

My blog has been silent for a few days as I flew back to Nottingham last week.
My mum had a hip replacement on Friday, all went well and she came out of hospital yesterday.
In the meantime, me and my dad have been on a trip on the tram to the river Trent.
We fed the ducks, and enjoyed a nice walk along the river bank. Not bad for 86 years of age - my dad that is, not me.
We have also been whizzing through some jigsaws and spending a lot of time trying to find parking spaces in the hospital car park.
As all is well here now, and I will be on my way back to Darren and the campervan on Saturday.
Normal service should resume then.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Annecy - Venice of the Alps

According to the travel broch, Annecy is sometimes known as the 'Venice of the Alps'. We have visited lots of towns that are known as 'Venice of the somewhere' and it seems that the only criteria for the title are a couple of canals, but Annecy pulls it off quite well.
It has a very pretty old town with a good amount of running through it. We enjoyed wandering around, following a walking route provided by the Tourist Information Office.
They also said that the coffee and cakes were good at the Imperial Palace Hotel on the waterfront. We checked out the menu and were enticed by 'coffee with three deserts' for €8 each.
The restaurant was very posh and as it was lunchtime everyone else was having a full meal, but the waitress was lovely and took our order.
She explained that we could pick our own deserts, and not just three, but as many as we wanted.  She then took us over to a huge table that was completely filled with every kind of pudding that you could imagine.
They were covered with a giant glass dome that she lifted on a pulley system and then left us to it. Nothing had been touched so all of the cakes were perfect - but someone has to take the first slice. I took the top profiterole off a bowl that was piled high, and then dipped a spoon into the middle of what I thought was chocolate sauce. It was actually chocolate mousse and it left a big, very obvious hole. Darren kept laughing and said that I should have discreetly taken a scoop from round the edge.
The rum babas were great and had a little syringe filled with rum stuck in the top. Daz had a Floating Island and we both had slices of dark chocolate cake, along with other goodies. 
Finally, feeling completely stuffed I asked for the bill and strangely, we were only charged for two coffees and one set of puddings - maybe they thought that we hadn't eaten enough to be charged twice.
Whatever the reason, it's good to be back in France.

Monday 12 October 2015

Mont Saleve

On Saturday morning I drove the campervan round to Geneva and parked a few miles over the border in France, and then Darren arrived back early in the evening.
On Sunday we caught the bus into Geneva, but there wasn't a lot happening. The most interesting thing was a giant fountain in the harbour that shoots water really high into the air. It is connected to a power plant and the fountain works all day relieving water pressure at the plant. I wanted to get a close up picture for my blog, so we walked out on a narrow harbour wall and stood within a few feet of it. I was almost ready to get my shot with a good angle of the town in the background, when suddenly it switched off and the fountain disappeared. It didn't come back, but fortunately the power plant didn't see explode, although I didn't have any pictures for a blog.
Today was more successful though and we took a walk straight from our campsite to a nearby mountain called Mont Saleve. It was hidden by clouds as we headed towards it, and then our path took us steeply upwards. We climbed for a couple of hours through a forest, seeing nothing but trees with their beautiful autumnal coloured leaves. Then suddenly we were out in open ground and  found that we were above the clouds.
The views were incredible, and our campsite is hidden somewhere down in the valley in pic 3.
We then walked over to look out at the views in the opposite direction and we could see the snow covered peaks of the French Alps.
I then got a bit carried away and took us on a giant detour through numerous fields of cows, then down an endless steep mountain road full of hairpin bends - we were both relieved when we eventually got home.

Friday 9 October 2015

Exploring the Lavaux Vineyards

I set off to explore the vineyards today and hoped to walk to a little town called Vevey.
I was following little yellow signposts and they took me on a beautiful route that started at the lake and then climbed high up onto the hillside.
The vineyard up there is the Dezalay Grand Cru area and is so steep that all of the grapes have to be picked by hand. I passed groups of people busy filling big yellow buckets and a little motorised cart that carried them down to my path.
When no one else was around I tried a few and they were fantastic - so sweet and juicy.
I carried on downhill, past little villages with bars that did wine tasting, and then the path took me down lots of metal steps. Eventually I was back down at lake level and saw a big rock with a diving board attached. It looked very inviting but I didn't have my swimming costume with me and a sign said 'no naturists' so I carried on my way.
I reached Vevey and it had a lovely promenade with a giant metal fork sticking out of the water.
I didn't fancy walking all the way back so hopped on the train and got home in seven minutes.
Ps, I tried to buy a bottle of the Grand Cru but it was a bit pricy, so instead I have bought a bottle of Epesses for me and Daz to try when he gets back tomorrow. It's supposed to be good and the grapes were grown about ten minutes walk from our van.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Family update

Yesterday Darren caught a flight from Geneva to London to attend a funeral. His lovely Auntie Mavis died recently and there will be a huge family turnout today.
I am looking after the van and Darren will be back here very soon.
I will keep the blog short today and just mention a couple of things:-
* I have just watched an incredible sunset that lit up the whole of the hillside behind me.
* My amaryllis that I bought in Munich and planted in a beer glass is flowering. It must like it's home and there are at least three other buds due to open soon.