Sunday, 29 July 2012

Head over heels for Cadiz!

Day 97 28.07.12 Cadiz

Cadiz casino, SpainDespite our dodgy parking situation we decide to spend a second day in Cadiz.  We’ve had no bother so far and neither of us wants to leave! 

We head back to the tall ships and a much smaller crowd.  This means we can look around a couple of the bigger boats including the huge Ecuadorian entry and one of the Portuguese.  It was very interesting to look around and the sailors in their bright white uniforms looked super smart!  There were also a number of classic cars parked up at the dock area, not hugely rare but still great to look at.

Cadiz casino, SpainWe spend some more time ambling around the centre and along the coast line.  We head up to the big gates which mark the start of Cadiz’s old town.  There’s a huge fountain and big turreted walls.  Sadly the walls are limestone so the sea air isn’t doing them much good!

Upon wandering the centre we come across the casino and go and have a quick look inside.  It’s decorated in an utterly gorgeous Moorish style with intricately carved archways and a small central fountain.  The detail is superb, the amount of work that must have gone in the place is astonishing.  It’s an overwhelmingly impressive building and somewhere I would’ve loved to have spent more time, if we had the money for gambling!

In the evening we find ourselves back at the dinosaur park and then watching the sunset again.  Once again the locals are out in force and clap at the end.  I can’t explain how much I love that!

There’s such a relaxed feeling here and a much wider variety of people than you see in most of Spain.  There are lots of people here with tattoos and piercings and a large gay community.  It makes for a very welcoming atmosphere and we feel at home here after just 2 days.  Everyone seems so happy and friendly.  In the main square at night there are families out with children until past midnight, it’s such a safe atmosphere. 
Cadiz is an incredibly special place and quite possibly our favourite of all the places we’ve been.  Whilst there aren’t the huge impressive buildings of Seville or Cordoba, it’s beautiful in its own way and being a thin peninsula means you’re never far from crystal clear waters and spectacular views.  The atmosphere and the people really make the place what it is though.  And what it is, is pretty damn awesome.

Clapping the sunset

Day 96 27.07.12 Cadiz

Jurassic park (sort of), Cadiz On awaking we head out to have another look around Ecija since the previous day didn’t really do it justice.  Whilst there’s not a huge amount to see it’s a very pleasant place to spend some time.  We go and have a look at a couple of the towers we’d missed the day before and nip inside one of the more impressive churches for a look around.  After more wifi and food shopping we hit the road to Cadiz.

It’s a long drive but there isn’t really any reason to stop along the route so we make a break for it.  We’ve missed the sea and especially the sea breeze so we can’t wait to get there.  The drive isn’t too bad until we reach Cadiz itself.  The main bridge into town is undergoing work so it’s down to one crawling lane.  On the other side we’re met with a bigger problem…parking.  Cadiz has a massive parking problem – in that there is hardly any.  There are a few underground car parks but nobody wants to pay for a space so the streets are lined both sides with cars, many of which look to have been there a long time.  There’s no way we’ll find a free legal spot so we park up in a ‘motorbike and scooter only’ stretch and hope for the best. 

Tall ship race Cadiz 2012It’s amazing to be back by the sea.  After the last little in the sweltering inland heat, the clean and fresh sea breeze is utter bliss.  Cadiz is a place that makes you feel instantly relaxed.  The last few stops have had a few dodgy people here and there and some of the seedier undertones of a big city.  In comparison Cadiz has a safe community feel. 

We discover in town that there is an international tall ship race soon and go to check out the boats all lined up around the marina.  They are utterly huge and very impressive.  It’s ridiculously busy though so we plan to return later.

Cadiz skyline
The main square is very pretty with a gold domed cathedral and some nearby Roman ruins.  The city is full of parks including a huge one full of dinosaur sculptures!  There is a beautiful area with waterfalls into a large pond and flowers galore.  All the while walking around it you can see out across the gorgeous blue sea.   

Given that the narrow shape of Cadiz’s old town it’s easy to find your way around, making it feel familiar very quickly.  There are lots of attractive buildings and squares to look at including a magnificent art deco house and some lovely churches. 

In the evening we head out to watch the sunset.  I’ve been surprised and a little disappointed in most places by how few people seem to do this, but not in Cadiz.  There are a huge number of locals out to watch the sun set over the sea and it’s a phenomenal sight.  As the last sliver of sun disappeared the crowd applauded.  It was an incredibly touching moment and one that will endear Cadiz to me forever.

Sunset in Cadiz, Spain

Out of the fire and into the frying pan

Day 95 26.07.12 Ecija

The rain did little to clear the air and it’s another roasting hot night, so much so it’s gone 4am before I manage to get any sleep!  This means it’s mid-morning before we’re up and about and on the road to Ecija.  It’s probably not the smartest idea we’ve ever had since Ecija is known as the ‘frying pan of Andalusia’ on account of its blistering hot summers.  Thankfully there’s a bit of a breeze when we arrive so it’s bearable but still a bit too much.

Ecija church tower, Southern SpainEcija plaza de espana, Southern SpainWe park up beside a park on the road-side, not ideal but parking isn’t exactly plentiful here.  We walk to a nearby shopping centre to catch up on wifi and grab some bits for lunch before heading out to look around town.  Ecija is known for its many attractive church towers dotted around the centre.  There are 11 in total, many of which are very pretty.  It’s a nice, relaxed place with lots of lazy plazas and shaded streets.  The Plaza de Espana main square houses some beautiful buildings and a large fountain.  The streets are very quiet and most shops are shut up for most of the afternoon presumably on account of the heat.  Despite the breeze it’s incredibly hot and we end up retreating to the van after a somewhat short look around.

Ecija church tower, Southern SpainTypical Ecija plazaThe park we’re next to fortunately has toilets so we fill up on water and get a load of hand washing done.  It’s time consuming toasty work but the laundry bag was looking pretty full.  After dinner we head out to walk up to the big shopping centre on the end of town.  It’s odd that Ecija has two big centres given its small size.  Along the route there are several large impressive statues and a small park area.  Hopefully this late night walk will cool us down enough to get some sleep tonight! 

Beggar off!

Day 94 25.07.12 Cordoba

So it turns out that the self-appointed car park attendant guys aren’t confined to Portugal, they’re here in Spain to bug us too.  The last couple of days we’ve had a polite and helpful (if a bit batty) old guy who was content with a euro to ensure nothing happened to the van in our absence and to keep things sweet with the bar we’re parked up by.  We’d rather not have to pay but it’s a small price to keep the peace and put our minds at ease.  This morning we’re hassled by a new guy in his twenties with a handful of teeth wanting more money and being a little loud about it.  The joke is starting to wear thin now but it’s hard to know what the consequences are of telling these guys to get lost, especially when the van is our home.  The last thing we need is a slashed tire or smashed window.  It’s likely we’ll leave tomorrow but these antics are starting to really get annoying.

We make for the fine arts museum (again 1.50 or free with an EU passport), it’s not as big as the one in Seville but there are some nice paintings and some good sculptures.  There’s also a terrible modern art section with a couple of paintings that appear to have been done by drunken toddlers (god I hate modern art). 

Again we have another wander around town, spotting some new fountains and churches.  Cordoba is a lovely place to explore but it looks like we’ve seen most of it now.  We have lunch in a small park that’s very pretty and then amble around some more.  We retreat to the van mid-afternoon as the heat is getting a bit too much to handle.  It’s still about 38-40 degrees but there’s no breeze so it’s a real killer.

After a little while of chilling out the dark clouds start to gather in the sky and we head to the shopping centre for some bits from the supermarket and some wifi.  On our return there’s a huge storm and lots of rain.  It’s great news as we’d been beginning to forget what it looked like!  Hopefully it will clear the air a little and get the solar panel cleaned off too!  

Majestic Mesquita

Day 93 24.07.12 Cordoba
Our day started with a trip to the shopping centre to use McDonald’s wifi to update the blog.  It took a little while but with ice cold drinks and air conditioning we didn’t mind too much!

Mesquita or mosque in Cordoba, Southern Spain
After heading back to the van to drop off the laptop and grab some lunch we went into town to visit the Mosque (mesquita).  The first impressions when you walk in really are breath taking.  The huge striped arches you recognise from photos are far more impressive than you’d expect and they seem to go on for miles. 

Sadly a cathedral has been built in the centre of the old mosque.  Whilst the Christian architecture, sculptures and stained glass windows are very attractive, they seem quite jarring with the more understated yet impossibly beautiful Moorish sections.  The old mosque sections are for me the real highlight.  The spectacularly detailed arches, glistening gold designs on the wall and wonderfully shaped windows are totally awe inspiring. 

Some rooms off the side of the main mosque hold Christian church decorations including a ginormous golden lamp which must weigh a ton!  There are also some large statues and all sorts of other gaudy gold bits and pieces.  It really is odd how different the mosque and the cathedral elements are.  The mosque, whilst it is wonderfully detailed and entails an immense amount of work is somehow subtle and understated next to the Christian parts which seem to shout and scream for your attention.

After the mosque we headed up to the archaeology museum (1.50 or free with an EU passport).  There was a pleasing lack of broken pots and some nice Roman statues and mosaics but not a huge amount else.  We had a bit more of a walk around town and visited a Moorish influenced church and then headed home.   

Cordoba's mesquita, Southern Spain

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Cordoba’s culture….and Primark.

Day 92 23.07.12 Cordoba

 We had intended to get up super early to travel to Cordoba but after both having a terrible night’s sleep on account of the toasty conditions we opted to snooze the alarm and set off at a more reasonable 9:30 am.  The drive was pretty hellish with some dubious directions from the Sat Nav and a non-existent car park destination.  The spot we eventually found is perfect though, just back from the Roman bridge which leads over into the historic centre and offers great views of the mesquita and surrounding buildings.
We ventured over and looked in the free section of the mosque (we plan to return for a full visit tomorrow).  We also ambled around the rest of town taking in numerous architectural delights on the way.  It was early afternoon by this point so we headed back to the van for lunch and then over to a large shopping complex on the edge of town for more water and fruit juice.  We just can’t seem to drink enough at the moment, it’s so hot!  The centre had a huge plane randomly parked outside and was a strange mix of individually owned shops and big brands, including a Primark?!

After dropping off the shopping we went back to town and enjoyed an early evening stroll around.  The streets were incredibly quiet and the sun low enough in the sky to make almost everywhere in the shade, a perfect time for more sight-seeing.  We came across the well maintained ruins of a Roman temple which were particularly impressive.  The Moorish influence in town makes for some lovely features and attractive patios.  Sadly most places are closed on Mondays so there we couldn’t look closer at these lovely buildings, but we can’t wait to do so tomorrow!

We grabbed dinner back at the van and then back to town for Cordoba by night.  The city is very well lit in a sympathetic way to highlight the details of buildings without being tacky.  There were a lot more people out and about enjoying the sights at this time and it was lovely to cool down before bed.  A little after we got back to the van we were surprised by a fireworks display going on by the river, most of which we could make out from the van.  It’s a shame we didn’t know about it in advance though, else we’d have headed to the river to check it out!  All in all we’re very impressed with Cordoba and look forward to more exploring tomorrow.

Scenes from a sci fi movie

Day 91 22.07.2012 Seville

In the morning we both get some hand washing done having found a handy water tap nearby on our adventures yesterday.

Setas de la Encarnacion, Seville in Southern SpainAfter lunch we head out to the Cathedral having read that entry is free on Sunday afternoons.  Sadly by rather out of date guidebook is incorrect and at 8 euros each we decide to give it a miss.  The cathedral looks amazing but we’re on a tight budget and known our next trip to Cordoba’s mosque will be pretty expensive.  We’re both disappointed but plough on to Setas de la Encarnacion a huge space age looking structure.  It looks like a city from a sci-fi movie and we head inside to look around.  There’s a lift that takes you up to the top of the structure for panoramic views of the city.  At 1.30 euros a ticket it seems a fair deal and we get inside the space age looking lift.

The top of the building is like a disused rollercoaster, with huge undulating curves of metal that offer 360 views above the city.  It really goes to show how many spectacular buildings Seville has to offer.  It was a great experience and made up for not being able to go up the Giralda tower.

Setas de la Encarnacion, Seville Spain
We then headed over to the Casa de Pilatos assuming that the high 8 euro entry fee would mean the building was very impressive but sadly we were disappointed.  It’s attractive but I think it’s main draw is the patios and internal decorations which we didn’t get to see for free.  We chose to head back to the van through Triana on the opposite side of the river to Seville central.  It was very lively with bands playing in the streets and crowds gathered by the river watching some kind of competition that involved walking along a pole for as long as possible before falling in the river (most people were pretty rubbish at said game). 

We’ll be leaving Seville tomorrow to head to Cordoba and visit the mosque.  We’ll be coming back here en route to the coast as otherwise it’s a ridiculously long drive.  Nonetheless it’s sad to be leaving Seville as we’ve well and truly fell for its charms.  It’s an amazing city and if you’ve never been I urge you to visit.  The only downsides of this place for us are that its pretty far from the sea and that its just too hot.  We love great weather but it will happily stay 44 degrees here from 10am to 9pm and that’s a bit much for us!

Making friends with bacon

Day 90 21.07.12 Seville 

After the last couple of days of trekking around the city in the incredible heat we’re a little run down.  I’ve managed to sprout a rather painful foot blister that hurts when I walk and we’re both covered in heat rash.  Cue a rather lazy day. 

We have to make a supermarket run for water and fruit juice as we’re going through it by the bucket-load at the moment!   

We also check out the monastery that’s right next to our parking spot.  It’s an attractive building with impressive Moorish domes and tile work.  It has largely been filled by a rather pretentious looking modern art museum.  We give it a miss, not being fans of modern art (to say the least).  Afterwards we head further along the river to some large gardens and the Expo site.  The expo was designed to incorporate this part of the river into more tourists Seville visits but its empty, a total ghost town.  The gardens are still quite well maintained and smell strongly of the orange trees lining the paths.  The park is full of dragonflies which are just everywhere in Seville.  There are utterly massive too and really rather terrifying, although not as bad as the giant black bees which truly do give me the creeps!

Other than that we laze around in the van trying to keep cool via some blissfully cold showers.  We also make friends with some local stray cats using mainly bacon.

Here's some pics that didn't make the cut over the last few days.  I had so many to choose from!

Museum day

Day 89 20.07.12 Seville 

On our second day in Seville we plan to keep out of the heat a little by visiting a few museums.  First we head to the fine art museum which is 1.50 euros to enter or free with an EU passport, an absolute steal.  In Portugal this place would be at least 5 euros.  The museum is packed with some incredible work.  The first part is almost entirely religious and whilst impressive it gets a little much by the end.  After this there are a number of rooms of excellent portraits and sculptures.  The main hall is a huge extravagant space with brilliant fresco ceilings and again many fine works.  It’s a large and very well put together museum with a lot of great art.  All of the rooms are arranged around some fine patios brimming with greenery.  A fine way to while away a couple of hours and stay air conditioned cool.

Our next stop was the archaeology museum in the park beside the Plaza de Espana.  I must admit we took a detour back the Plaza to enjoy it once more.  I really am still blown away by the place, it’s just phenomenally beautiful!  The route to the museum took in a number of fountains and some lovely green space.  The pavilion is particularly beautiful as too is the museum of modern customs.  

The archaeology building itself is impressive too.  The entry price is the same as the fine arts museum (aka free!)   The first room is a rather dull collection of…you guessed it…pots (sigh).  Quite a worrying amount of pots that leads me to believe this might have been a wasted trip.  We spur onward though and are rewarded with much more impressive collections in the next few rooms.  There are a lot of Roman statues, a great collection of coins and some very well preserved mosaics.

We head back to the van along some random streets we hadn’t been along and find many more wonderful buildings we’d previously missed.  Seville seems to be a city full of gorgeous surprises.

Feelin hot hot HOT!

Day 88 19.07.12  Seville

We got up early and decided to get on the road and out of Portugal.  Whilst we’ve seen some great places here, there’s not a huge lot left on the next stretch of coast and we long for Spain’s much cheaper prices!  Having consulted the map we decide to head to Seville, a city we’ve both been looking forward to.  It’s a 2 hour journey although thankfully mostly one long stretch on the same motorway.  We’re glad to be back on Spain’s free and much better quality motorways that’s for sure!

Our spot in Seville is a dusty car park in Triana on the opposite side of the river to the city but close to a bridge.  We’d heard all sorts of stories about Seville’s heat but until you’ve experienced it, you really have no idea how sweltering 44 degrees can be!  Nevertheless we head out to explore the city and immediately fall head over heels for the place.

We stroll along the river side past the huge bullring and alongside the impressive Torre del Oro, now a naval museum.   We find our way to the main centre of the city and take a walk past the ginormous cathedral and marvel at the beautiful Giralda tower alongside it.  Seville is a stunning city absolutely full of spectacular architecture with a strong Moorish theme.  There are lots of brightly tiled walls and magnificent ceramics. 

It really is a city you need to get lost in.  Ditch the maps and just wander around and walk down streets just to see what’s there.  You won’t be disappointed!  We stumbled across the most amazing architecture I’ve ever seen at seemingly every turn.  Even residential buildings are wonderfully detailed.  One downside I’d mention is that because the city is so built up, it can be difficult to get far enough away from some of the buildings to really appreciate them.  One major plus however is that many of the streets are shaded with strips of fabric hanging from one side to the other to keep it somewhat cool!

Plaza de Espana, Seville Spain

Plaza de Espana in Seville, Southern SpainWe later headed up to the Plaza de Espana, the phenomenal square with water all around its edges and wonderful tile work.  I cannot enthuse about this place enough, I really can’t.  I’ve seen so many pictures but none do this masterpiece justice.  The level of detail on the buildings and bridges, the colours of the ceramics, the intricate tile-work and all of this beauty reflecting on the water makes for a wondrous sight.  You really have to see it to understand how amazing it really is.

Beside the Plaza is a huge park full of sculptures and fountains again with a Moorish influence.  It’s a lovely place to wander through on our route home.  It’s been a busy day of exploring a new city but we’ve already fallen for Seville’s charms despite its blistering heat!

The Chapel made of 1245 dead monks

Day 87 18.07.12 Faro

Our second day in Faro started with a slow morning of blog updating and catching up on emails.  After some lunch we headed out to visit the Igreja Do Carmo, a church on the other side of town known for its ‘bone chapel’.

We got there to find it was closed and surrounded a bunch of equally confused people looking to visit.  We got chatting to a guy from Bristol also waiting to visit the church.  He had been told it opened at 3pm after a somewhat standard Portuguese 3 hour lunch break.  We hung around for a while, walked the local streets and chatted to our new acquaintance until the place finally opened.

The main church is quite standard for Portugal with lots of gaudy gold trimmings and statues.  The bone chapel is however something very different!  For a bargainous 1 euro entry you can head out into the courtyard and to the chapel of bones.  Made up of 1245 monks’ skulls and many more leg bones the chapel is quite a sight to say the least.  The skulls gaze down at you from the ceiling and the macabre sign reads ‘Stop here and think of this fate that will befall you’.  It truly is an awesome experience.

After parting ways with our new friend we headed back to the van and on the road to Pedras de El-Rei.  Typical of the Algarve west of Faro, the beach is separated from the town via a series of mud flats.  There is a small train that runs across or you can walk alongside the tracks and make your own way.  We chose the freebie route and eventually were presented with a gorgeous stretch of beach.  Right next to where the path comes out the beach is very busy but just a short walk along the shoreline and you find huge empty expanses of sand.  We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening enjoying a walk along the beach dipping our toes in the sea.  It’s nice to find a quite bit of beach after seeing so many heaving with tourists.