Aiming for Umbria, Autumn 2018. 4

Sunday 23rd September. We had a quiet day on site, Camping Roma Flash. It was such a contrast to go from such a busy aire at Saturnia to such a quiet campsite, sadly packing up for the winter. Yet the weather was far better than we could usually hope for on an English summer day! Far too hot to sit in the sun.

All around us the few remaining caravans owners were washing everything and dismantling their domains. Generally Italian campsites have very few statics in sharp contrast to the sad cities of shabby vans on Spanish sites. From our vantage spot by the the lake the sun rose directly in front of us, and later just to our left I saw cormorant drying their wings and a heron fishing. We had an excellent tasty pizza from the restaurant in the evening, having run out of food.

Monday 24th. We set off in good time for Rome and reached Camping Via Fliamina easily, really nice site with excellent facilities and pleasant pitches. Access to the city is so easy, a walk of 10 minutes, beside admittedly busy roads, trains every 15 minutes, 6 stops then straight on onto the Piazza Popola.

We were immediately struck by just how busy Rome was, last time we were here, 9 years ago it was so much quieter. And also so many policemen and soldiers everywhere.! We saw most of the significant sites last time, so this was a question of revisisting favourites and general wandering. We went first to the Spanish Steps, and gazed at the adjacent house where Keats died in 1821.

Then on to try to find the Trevi fountain, actually we got lost on the way and saw other things, including a square dominated by a large column, where we could see the press pursuing (a politician?) When we finally found the Trevi fountain, it was empty for maintenance work, a shame!

Around the corner in the Via delle Muratte, there was an Art Nouveau courtyard, from 1900, decorated with pictures explaining a woman’s life.

By then very tired we actually found a coffee lounge with comfortable chairs! Nearby an impressive church whose name I can’t remember! Hardly surprising! We chanced upon the Parthenon, and as the queue was fast moving popped inside. Hard to believe this building was 2000 years old!

Then on to the church of Sant Agostino, where we understood to be a Caravaggio. We had looked for this last time, but repeatedly turned up to a different church, which was always locked!

This time we were able to see it, Madonna of the Pigrims. All the people were so life like, the baby did actually look like a child, albeit not really a baby, more a large toddler. And the pilgrims had such dirty feet! There was also a sculpture of Mary and her mother cuddling baby Jesus, very much the adoring grandmother!

Now have found out there is another Caravaggio in another church, can we find that one! By then thoroughly exhausted so made our way back to the station, via the Tiber, which this time actually had water in!

Site so much busier on our return, such a contrast to the last site.

Tuesday 25th. We braved an extended trip on the Metro, only lost once, on the wrong platform. The trains so much cleaner and brighter than London. We got out at the Colosseum, as expected very busy but easy to escape the crowds. A Japanese couple were posing in their wedding finery.

We then walked up the Via die Fori Imperiali, a wide road which we learnt had been dug through countless archeological treasures in the 1930s. Unbelievable. We found the church of Santo di Cosma i Damiano, with a really amazing mosaic apse. It was changed to a Christian building in 527 by Theodoric, king of the Ostrogothics, from a Roman 4th century temple.

We could see the newly reconstructed pillars from the Peace Forum, AD 70, with the Il Vittorano behind.

We rounded the Il Vittorano, monument to Vitoria Emmanuel, Italy’s first king, an enormous white edifice usually called The Wedding Cake. Then plunged into the Jewish Quarter beside the Teatro did Marcello, which had held 20,000 spectators. It was sobering to find the little bronze pavement memorials to Jews transported to Auschwitz we had seen especially in Germany. We have now found out they are called stumbling stones, they were started in 1993 by Gunter Demnig, a German writer, and there are now 60,000 of them throughout Europe. After lunch, we wandered past grand palazzos, the Palazzo Farnese was now the French Embassy and heavily guarded. The Piazza Navana had very impressive fountains, featuring four major rivers.

We then went to see the Caravaggio in the Chiese di San Luigi del Fransese, which was the French church in Rome, at least we could have a guess at the memorials. The Caravaggio featured the conversion of St Matthew, it was so interesting to see contemporaries used as models for the characters also that Caravaggio had given Jesus the same gesture as Michelangelo gave God.

But we much prefered the less visited Caravaggio in the Chiesa di Sant Agosino, so popped back to have another look before catching the bus home from round the corner.

Wednesday 26th. Andy wanted a day from the crowds so I wandered in by myself, no worries as so easy. I made for the Basilica do Santa Prassede, famous for its Byzantine Mosaics.

It was an absolute gem of a 9th century church, much less visited, and with an amazing apse mosaic and also a jewel of a chapel.

There was also another chapel that included mosaics that were pre-Raphaelite in style.

I spent ages loving it all before moving on almost round the corner to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

It could not have been more different, guarded by the army and police, and security barriers, I had to go through an airport type scanner. It had been targeted in 2015. This church, built in the 5th century, and much altered later, belongs to the papacy. It was exceedingly rich, with a fine ceiling and amazing 12th cent. paving. The canopy over the altar reminded me of St Peter’s. However what I had come for was the 5th century mosaics, over the apse arch.

According to Wikipedia, the church was dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, and the depiction of her in these mosaics gave a model for future representations, based as they were on ‘frescoes, manuscripts painting and many pavement mosaics across villas in Africa, Syria and Sicily in the 5th century. These mosaics gave historians insight into artistic, religious and social movements of the time’. There were similar pictures depicting stories from the Old Testament in the nave. It was interesting how most of the people were wearing togas, and in one picture Mary appeared as a Roman Empress.

All around the walls were busy confessionals that announced the language they they dealt with, until a mass began in one of the chapels. The whole church was amazingly busy.

I found lunch in a local cafe, the only tourist, and made my way past very grand hotels up to the entrance to the Villa Borgese Park, intending to walk through to the Etruscan museum the other side. I then found that the park was bisected by busy roads, and instead of asking Google maps, made my way round the southern limit, past the top of the Spanish steps, amazing views, and eventually got to the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Guilia.

I had walked past countless villas and museums and even a newly constructed full sized copy of the Globe Theatre.

It was a shame I was so tired for the museum but even I could appreciate the 6th cent BC Sarcophagus of the Betrothed. A husband and wife in their finery, on a banqueting couch. And at last a map which put Etruscans in their place with Greeks and Phoenicians.

There were many pots, copied from the Greeks, with whom they traded and copied a great deal.

I found fortunately that the Metro was only 15 minutes walk away, and was glad to get on the train. I would really like to have continue to explore further, and revisit St Peter’s but have an inflected bite on my leg, think that walking another 7 miles tomorrow might not be wise.

Thursday 27th. After a cold night, it was sad to leave Rome, but hopefully will return, especially when so easy to get into the city. The ring road was easy to reach and relatively quiet and soon we were heading north parallel with the coast. We drove towards the resort of Castiglione Della Pescaia hoping to get a good view of the island of Elba, but the coast was intensively lined with maritime pines, and there was no easy motor home parking in the town which did look pleasant. All the aires were back in the pines behind the beach.

We drove into the Colline Metallifere, or metal bearing hills and reached Massa Marittima, a very unspoilt hilltop town with a lovely square,

The 13th cent atmospheric Duomo was dedicated to St Cerbonius, who is always depicted surrounded by Geese?!

There were lots of impressive carvings and simple pictures. It looked a nice place to live, and we enjoyed a glass of wine in the square.

Friday 28th. We drove the short distance to Monterotondo Marittimo, to visit the Geo Thermal Park, where steam has been transformed into power since 1916, the area today powers 25% of Tuscany’s energy needs. At le Blancane, it was a considerable scramble to get up to see the various steam vents, and hear the boiling water in a lake we could not quite see. There was hot water streaming past in terracotta channels. I was considerably surprised to see a road at the top, and coach disgorging a party of Germans, but they would not have seen all we had seen and been as close to the action! I had hoped it was a circular walk, but we had to scramble down the same path.

We then drove round the hillside to Sasso Pisano, a village with similar thermal vents. We had a walk around the village, which was quite petite. We were adjacent to the village swimming pool and open aire spa, which I was told would be open the following day. It looked as if the whole area was newly refurbished and a workman was working on the aire. We also climbed to see the washpool, with water too hot to put your hand in! I can’t believe it was used without a roof.

During the afternoon a small boy asked me if I was his Nonna, he was with his English mother and Italian father. I also gained a dog, who left the people sorting out the pool and came to sit by me most amicably even when called for. During the evening we could continue to get wiffs of the sulphur in the hot water running nearby.

Saturday 29th. I had a lovely soak in the new pool adjacent to the aire, all for 2€! It was treated water from the nearby spring, and several of the ladies were complaining it was not as warm as usual. It felt fine to me, about the same temperature as Bath Spa. I gathered from a Dutch lady that this was the last weekend before closing for the winter. It was lovely laying in the water admiring the village on the cliff adjacent.

We then drove through densely wooded attractive scenery , which was interwoven with large pipes and scattered with cooling towers, most incongruous. At Pomarance we fortunately did not pay for the excellent but expensive aire, as a quick wander through the town proved it had very little to offer apart from a great situation. And a very interesting tablet high on a wall explaining the new measures in weight, liquid and distance when Italy went metric, in 1868. Before this all the cities had their own measurements.

So we drove on to Voltarra, last visited 9 years ago, I’m afraid I did not remember it at all.

The aire was at the bottom of about 200 steps, we will be fit after visiting Italy, nothing is ever flat! Apart from the Po valley. The town was a mass of busy medieval streets, visitors have not stopped travelling here for the winter! The town housed as many as 25,000 Etruscan inhabitants and was absorbed into Rome in 250BC. The Etruscan Porto all’Arco was saved from destruction by the inhabitants when the German commander ordered it’s destruction in 1944 to halt the American advance. The townspeople pleaded for the arch and were told if they could fill it completely and properly in 24 hours it could be saved, never imagining they would be able to do it. They worked hard to hand the stones to 3 stonemasons who constructed the filling. The job was completed with two hours to spare.

The view points over the surrounding countryside were spectacular, and we could glimpse the sea in the distance, the town stands at 580m. The Cathedral was closed for works and the congregation using the 13th cent Baptristy in front. We had a glass of prosecco on a high terrace. I glimpsed the Roman Theatre from the walls and was rather underwhelmed. Much better in Merida in Spain!

Sunday 30th. We were up the steps into town in good time before the crowds. Voltarra a very likeable place despite the crowds, really does feel as old as it is claimed, a city by the end of the 8th century BC. We explored the Porto all’Arco in detail and got better pictures of those taken in 1944. When we walked through the town to the further gate of Porto a Selci there were memorials to their liberation and moving photos of those who perished.

The castle is now a prison but the fortress was built by the Medicis. The central square Piazza dei Priori workmen were busy constructing a type of stage on a seemingly an ancient base, but on closer examination it was a plastic temporary structure. I eventually found out that it was going to be the set for a film, Medicis, Masters of Florence.

We had our lunch in a charming family run restaurant, where the children were outside in the street playing hop scotch. I then wandered on to sketch on the Via S Felice, the street that ran down to the Etruscan gate.

It was full of artisan workshops, fascinating to glimpse in the open doorways, so good to see all the skills still being practiced.

We then drove on through wooded Tuscan hills to my favourite Radda in Chianti, something seemed to be happening with so many cars but by the time we got out to explore it was finished. The town as interesting and low key as ever. ( Found out later there had been a bike race, called the Gran Condo del Gallo Nero, sponsored by the local Chianti Classico wines.)

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Aiming for Umbria. Autumn 2018. 3

Wednesday 12th. Another very warm sunny day. We set off in good time for a walk along the long distance paths that run from outside the site, through oak lined tracks. So many large butterflies. We walked till the path went very steeply downhill to the village in the valley. I then walked on to the neighbouring village, past a handful of temporary houses for those displaced by the earthquake. They are equipped with water tanks on the roof, and air conditioning units, but must still be very compact. The village of Castelveccio itself was rather average, most buildings still inhabited, the church seemed to be the main victim.

It grew very warm during the afternoon, and we went to sit on the terrace by the pool which was much cooler, then later had an excellent meal at the restaurant. Most reasonable prices so unsurprising just how popular it was with every table taken. I had the local delicacy of lentil soup, produced with the special lentils grown on the high plateau adjacent to the now ruined historic village of Castelluccio, which we had hoped to visit.

Thursday 13th. Overcast morning, decided to wash the bedding while access to excellent washing machines, dry in no time. I followed the long distance paths past the village and up the hill behind. I found the lttle used path which led to a chapel overlooking the village and view beyond. The chapel was in very good state of repair, despite dating from 1547. From there I could see the village, with temporary housing in the middle of the picture and buildings from the campsite far right, the pitches on terraces down the hill behind.

Back in the village I could see pictures of the church interior, and also found the unused village wash house. On the way back I saw a utilitarian viaduct which I latter discovered was part of the supply and storage water system for the valley.

The afternoon gradually became rather damp and even chilly, so I was unable to sketch around the pool as I had hoped, or even have another swim, but we did manage another meal in the restaurant.

Friday 14th. The day began very misty but eventually cleared to clear blue skies and very warm again. We took the tortuous descent down through the campsite to the road below. I had hoped to at least drive further along the road to get further into the national park, but we had an engine light show on the dashboard so after taking advice we went to a garage in Spoleto, who saw us immediately and diagnosed a dirty emissions sensor! No charge!

We wandered up into the town aware of the various lifts to take us up through the town, but every lift we found only took us back down again!! We climbed through an impressive gate above which an inscription recorded that the townsfolk thwarted Hannibal’ s attempts to take the town, only problem being that the walls and gates that defended them were built 1,500 years later. Eventually we made it to the fortress above the town and looked down on the Ponte delle Torri, a slim 10 arched medieval bridge on Roman foundations spanning a gorge.

We then walked down to the Duomo, a most attractive building, with the bell tower constructed from uneven Roman stones. Inside I was excited to use my fledgling Italian to understand the story of a saint.

The domed apse was painted by Filippo Lippi, with his characteristic curlyhaired people staring down at the on lookers.

There was also a glimpse of the densely painted interior that had been lost in a makeover.

We enjoyed walking back down through the town, past the myriad of tiny shops. One row had medieval type shutters.

We then had a fruitless search for a supermarket, more specifically a Conad one. After chasing round in a circle to find it closed, and not finding it in a nearby town, we gave up and drove to the aire at Montefalco. On the way into the town we spied a small supermarket so gratefully stopped for a shop up, only to see a Conad as we pulled into the aire! Too tired to explore the town after dinner.

Saturday 15th. As we walked into town we discovered that this weekend had a wine festival. We had a very pleasant wander round the town, which has a pleasant central square at the top of the hill, almost circular, facing the town hall. There were two main thoroughfares from the square down to gates in the town wall. On the wander back for lunch I found a large convent which I took to belong to the Poor Clares, and I also found there was a St Clare who was born in the town in the 1200’s, and is well regarded locally.

In the afternoon we paid our 10€ for a glass, and joined the wine tasting. The festival was held in the cloisters of an ancient church with very old wall paintings and charming if poignant children’s figures of refuges around the altar.

So many different local wines to choose from and try. I was interested that I could taste the difference a little, and knew which I preferred.. full bodied reds. It is good we can take the glasses round for further tasting tomorrow, see if I can learn a bit more. There was supposed to be a jazz performance in the town square this evening, but we saw little sign of it happening. There are so many no waiting signs around the town, they must be expecting crowds tomorrow. In the evening we could see so many towns and villages across the valley, and in distance could clearly see Assisi, with the basilica standing proud of the town on its peninsula.

Sunday 16th. We had a wander around the town before calling into the wine festival, where we had a long and most interesting chat with one of the vendors. She had visited London many times and knew more about it than us, especially the museums which she especially liked visiting in the evening. She was an ardent fan of Jane Austen, listing her favourites, but most of all loved Jane Eyre! Amongst so much else she explained that the local grape, growing on clay produced the Sarantino wine which was very rich and intense, whereas the wine from Montepulciano to the North was much lighter, and less complex, and easier to drink in larger quantities. Which was interesting as Andy had said he preferred a lighter red, whereas I drink little and prefer a denser red. She suggested a Montefalco Rosso, a blend, rather than a straight Sarantino wine which can very expensive and variable. She also said she was shocked by the price of prosecco in London which she had seen at 7€ a glass, whereas in Italy they drank it like coke or lemonade! We also learnt that Italian whites need to come from the foothills of the Alps.

During the afternoon there was a procession of floats, celebrating the Vendemmia, or end of the wine harvest. Most were pulled by vintage tractors which took some keeping going.

By then the aire was full to bursting. The excitement carried on through the afternoon, but the town was quiet by the evening. However I had to cut short my wander after drops of rain that did not come to anything till 10pm.

Monday 17th. After a shop up, we drove the very scenic 5 miles to Bevagna, a much less touristic town without the immediate appeal, but friendly and felt very old indeed, with evidence of Roman foundations. The most striking area was round the Piazza Silvestri, with two Romanesque churches ( 12-13 cent) and the Palazzo dei Consoli that contained the most delightful bijoux theatre, Teatro F Torti, finished in 1886.

I went back in the afternoon to draw in the square, eventually a very large funeral arrived followed by spots of rain. I did manage to visit the tiny theatre, which was totally charming, there was seating for 50 in the auditorium, then three tiers of boxes, about 15 per row, which seated about 3-4. Total capacity of about 200, and about 1/4 size of Theatre Royal in Bath. Then I scurried back, very black sky in the distance and thunder rumbling around, followed eventually by rain.

Tuesday 18th. We drove to the Terri de Trinci Cantena, as we had quite liked what we had had from there at the festival, and affordable, rather than 20€+. So we stocked up on Montifalco Rosso, and also a few bottles of a very nice rosé.

Then we drove the few miles to Spello, yet another hilltop town, but much more touristy. It was very pretty, lots of flowers and pot plants. It is much visited by people ‘doing Italy’, who will come to Rome and Florence, then Assisi, and just pop down the road to see a typical Italian hilltop town. I heard much English and especially American. (I did hear one American talking on the phone of buying somewhere in Florence, really, while I was having an ice cream! ) Spello did seem to lack ‘heart’. We had lunch and were somewhat surprised that a small glass of beer was 7€ whereas as glass of reasonable wine was 4€!

The approach up the town was magnificent through two impressive gates. We walked up to the top of the town where there is a Cappuccian Monastery, with a lovely understated church, lots of flower decked alleys on the way. In the distance we could see Assisi, and there is a modern statue of St Francis in the central Piazza. We had thought of going on to Assisi, I have such wonderful memories of the last visit I almost don’t want to risk spoiling them. So we returned to the quiet aire at Bevagna for the night. And more rain!

Wednesday 19th. We had another walk around Bevagne, which was really growing on us. It was far from touristy but definitely a place we could live in, quietly bustling and friendly. We then drove on through lovely countryside, far reaching views of vines and hills and olives. We had decided not to visit Todi, another hill top town, but one that has been gentrified. A visiting American professor was much misquoted as saying Todi was an ideal place to live. In fact he was saying that old Italian hill top towns such as Todi, can be good places to live if handled sensitively, but the press got a much simplified version and the ‘news’ went world wide, property prices quadrupled and the place became the town to have a holiday apartment by the rich and famous.

So we decided to visit a nearby village of Monte Castelle de Vibio, which is reputed to have the smallest theatre in Italy, seating 99. It was also one of the ‘Belle villages’ of Italy. Unfortunately it had suffered the same fate as Todi, it was all spick and span, but totally dead. I agree it was just after lunch but there was not a soul about and nowhere to have a coffee or a meal. Really sad. At first the only living thing we saw was an adorable cat, through eventually did see a couple of workmen developing another house. And the theatre was only open in the mornings, if the tourist office was open.

So we drove on, but this time along the SS448, a river valley which opened out to a reservoir, but the whole valley was menacing, and unpleasant, we both felt it and were glad to reach our destination of Orvieto, an expensive but custom built aire under the town we visited 9 years ago. And then the rain set in, again.

Thursday 20th. We woke to more rain, but were eventually able to set off for the adjacent fenicular up into town. I had been looking forward to returning to Orvieto, as thought I could remember several interesting places we had viewed, in reality I was remembering somewhere totally different! And had also forgotten the magnificent cathedral. It probably has the most detailed and decorated front anywhere and is wonderful.

Inside it is great because it has not been filled with baroque extravagance, but is spacious and lofty.

The detail is in one of the side chapels which spent 4 years painting scenes of the last judgement.

After lunch went into the museum , largely to see the Etruscan remains. From what I understand detailed Greek vases were imported into Etruscia and then copied or even improved upon.

Orvieto stood on a volcanic plug. From one side of the hill we could look down on the impressive fortifications around the town, and could see the aire below us. The other side was the medieval quarter. As we drove away we chanced upon a magnificent view point which showed the whole town.

We then drove the short distance to lake Balsena, to a small private site which was not quite as special as we had hoped, neither was the walk round the lake, which although possible was not great. I was however surprised by the size of the lake.

Friday 21st. We took a wrong turning on our way eastward, and ended up wending our way round the tiny bends down through the town of Sorano, and then down through enormous steep sided bends into the adjacent river valley and up the other side.

Eventually we reached the Cotta del Tufo, beyond Sovana, which is an archeological park featuring Etruscan tombs and Vie Cave, or hollow roads, which were dug out of the tufa to a depth of 20 metres, and were thought to ceremonial walkways.

The tombs were most impressive, and included underground chambers featuring ledges for the bodies, and decorated tombs attended by lions, sea monsters holding ships waiting to take the dead to the next world, and temples . The whole area was a mass of excavated holes of varying sizes and complexity.

Tomba dei Demoni Alati, winged demons.

Tomba Ildebranda

Tomba della Sirena and Tomba del Tifone. Note the detailed ceiling.

Saturday 22nd. At 9 o’clock we walked down to the Cascate del Gorello , already it was quite busy. There was a large waterfall cascading over a variety of shelves it had created. These shelves were rather bulbous and slippery but inbetween and on the floor of the pools were perfect turquoise pebbles.

We tentatively made our way into the water, then sat and enjoyed. The water was a constant 37.5′ and trick was to try to get a position where the water cascaded over your shoulders. As we watched the whole area filled up and when we left at 10.30 it was really busy, in places the beach covered with towels. We would certainly like to return.

Then we towards the coast where we looked for an aire amongst some rather sad holiday villages. Not liking the area we carried on, past Tarquinia which we must visit some day, and mistakenly took the coast road rather than the payage motorway. It took us though Civitavecchia, a large port, and past a more attractive coastal area busy with bathers. Eventually we turned inland to head for lake Bracciano and Camping Roma, where we parked on a very attractive pitch right beside the lake. The site was clearly gearing down to closing at the end of the month, but very pleasant.

Aiming for Umbria. Autumn 2018. 2

Thursday 6th September. We had one last wander round Lucca. The Piazza Anfiteatre was bit quieter than usual first thing, but rather lacked atmosphere. We had coffee once more beside the statue of Pucinni, listening to strains of another of his ‘shabby little shockers’!

We then took the motorways past Florence and another struggle to pay at the end. We must spend more time considering which kiosk is manned! Easily reached Arezzo but did not like the feel of the aire, which included lots of itinerants. We could have made for the inexpensive second aire, but as it was rather warm so decided to drive on towards smaller towns, and arrived at Anghiari, a small unspoilt village on the border with Umbria. The town included a church reputed to have been built by Thomas Becket, much of the village dated from the early Middle Ages. The walls overlooked the site of a famous battle in 1440, between the Milanesse and the Florentines. It had been immortalised by a lost painting of De Vinci.

Friday 7th. We spent the morning and half the afternoon Angihiari, we had coffee in the adjacent to the town hall, which had old wall paintings , and a Roman wine making cellar. In the afternoon I visited the museum about the town and De Vince’ s lost painting of the battle of Anghiari.

The local history was presented in a very dry and detailed manner, but the information about the painting was fascinating. There are several other depictions of this battle made soon after the event, on wedding chests now to be seen in Dublin and Madrid. However these hark back to the medieval style of depiction. When Leonardo was commissioned to make the painting on the walls of the Pilazzo Vecchio, in Florence 50 years after the event he spent a year making preliminary sketches, many of which survive. Ones are to be found in the the National Gallery, London; the Ashmolian and at Windsor. Leonardo started the painting in 1503 but for some reason never finished it and some years in 1555 later it was covered over. A famous recreation of what is thought to have been depicted exists and has been much copied.

When we used the services where we were parked we had an unfortunate incident with a badly placed bollard, which will have to be repaired. I had had bad vibes about the whole set up.We are not doing very well.

We drove on to Sansepulco where by chance they were having their annual archery contest and fete. We parked in an average but useful car park by the town walls and found the archers practicing in the town square. Their long bows were very elaborately carved, and the target was surprisingly short range. We took an evening stroll, many musicians outside the various eateries who were very noisy, except for an excellent singer and pianist playing older standards, so we stopped for a glass of wine.

Saturday 8th. There was a town market featuring medieval stalls and skills, many of the stallholders and others in costumes. Also a display of mediaeval armoury and weapons . We had a pleasant and interesting meal in Enoteca Beghia. Much entertained by three families with two year old children, trying to have a meal together. Quite a bit of time was spent pursuing the children up the street or into an adjacent church.

In the Cathedral, decorated for a wedding, there was an interesting wide eyed crucifix in blue robe, and an attracive ceramic Nativity. I spent lot of day sitting on seat opposite the cathedral sketching the stall holders in the market and generally people watching.

In the evening went in to the central square to sit on the stands and watch the display which started with display of drums and archers for tomorrow’s palio. Then there was an amazing magician and assistant. He put a cloth or a fabric cylinder over her, shook it for 3 seconds and she emerged in a different dress, 6 times! Then he changed into different suit in the same manner and finally just poured tinsel over her and changed her dress into a white one. No idea how he did it at all.

Then there was a band display with local and French band from twin town, so typically dressed. The French visitors were sitting next to us, and were most enthusiastic. The band master was a dapper little man who was severely disadvanted as he was not used to performing in the square, however despite a lot of anxious running around, his band performed magnificantly. The cymbal player was a joy to behold, stood quivering with anticipation as his turn came round..

Finally the flag displays, firstly 2 small boys, then some disabled gentlemen who were warmly recieved. I was moved they were included. The group displays were most impressive when flags thrown high to each other, finally one man juggling 3 large flags.

Sunday 9th. We could not stop on our current spot as it had reserved for an event during the morning, it would have been good to see the crossbow contest or Palio between the town and Gubbio, but perhaps another time. So we drove onto the nearby town of Cotto di Castello but that was hosting a horse racing event, so we pressed on, down the Tiber valley through most attractive countryside, until we reached Gubbio, the opposition.

The aire was delighful and spacious, (though a Frenchman had parked immediately adjacent when we returned so our table and chairs were quite close.) The town was a short walk away and built up a hillside, the town reminded me of Minoan towns we had visited in Greece, including Monemvasia. The hill was topped with trees and a very precipitous fenicular, with tiny metal baskets travelling up the steep hill to a church on the top. My nerves failed me, as the baskets did not slow and you were expected to jump aboard but Andy made the ascent.

There were also lifts between the levels of the town, the cathedral in the upper level had a most atmospheric altar set off in a dark quire. The most impressive 14th cent Palazzi di Consloi stood to one side of the Piazza Grande with an impressive view over the valley.

Monday 10th. I had intended to work our way slowly south, into the Sibillini hills, but I had not done my research properly. We passed the aire at Pioraco, as did not seem special and headed for Camerino, where we found the aire but could not understand why the large modern aire and car park were deserted and unused, with weeds growing in the cracks. Such a shame with such a view. When we got to the next village and noticed the deserted boarded up houses and cracks in the walls we understood. The 2016 earthquake. I did not known the area of damage but we were quickly to find out.

We stopped in the pleasant town of Pievehovigiana, where the aire also houses the police station, post office and bank in portacabins. Displaced villagers were housed in neat rows of prefabricated tiny green houses, which had been decorated to make them seem personal. The small town seemed normal at first glance, till you noticed the cracks. The upper old town was totally cordoned off, but most of the post 1930s houses seemed to have survived.

We tried to go east to an ASCI campsite at Sarnano, but access roads through the towns looked a problem so drove south to a campsite near Preci. The devastation grew worse as we went south, with whole walls collapsed, and at Visso the whole side of an apartment block. Here most of the town was destroyed and temporary homes much in evidence. Even a temporary small tourist information. It is very difficult, you don’t want to do disaster tourism, but this National Park has most spectacular scenery and relies on tourism. The map shows the towns and villages that have been badly damaged in red, it is so daunting to see such ordinary houses unfit to live in!

After a rather tortuous approach we found the campsite and settled in with wonderful view over the mountains and valleys. Now have to have a big think about routes and destinations.

Tuesday 11th. A quiet day at the site, doing our jobs including the washing. This really is a lovely site, high on a hill with superb views of the surrounding mountains and tiny hill top villages. I just hope they are ok as from this distance impossible to tell. Lovely walks from the site gate. It was a very warm day, but with a pleasant breeze in the area around the pool.

Aiming for Umbria

Heading off after such a busy summer!

Dominic’ s wedding

Adventures with Ellie and Alex, including a day with Thomas the Tank Engine! Perfect way to celebrate a birthday. (Mine!) A few days in Hastings with Sonia, Janet and Linda. Sarah’s wedding.

Family camp.

Friday 31st August. We set off after coffee and called into Polesdon Lacey, just off the M25, which we had never visited before. It was the Edwardian home of Margaret Grenville, built to entertain society. Atmospheric house, she was very philanthropic, but could not help wonder what influence she tried to have between the wars when her sympathy lay with the Nazi cause.

We reached Dover seafront where we spent the night.

Saturday 1st September. Up at an ungodly hour to catch the 6 o’clock ferry to Dunkirk. Very amused to be callled upon by two sweet Jehovah’s witnesses the minute we stopped for coffee just inside Belgium. We were caught in an enormous queue outside Namur. Eventually stopped for the night at Sierck-les-Bains, adjacent to the Moselle. An interesting position, where the borders of France, Luxembourg and Germany are adjacent.

Sunday 2nd September. We drove on past Saarbrucken, and eventually took the N62, a most attractive road between Zweibrucken and Hagenau. We passed a major Maginot fort, called Simserhof, which we called into see, a dramatic film and train tour round part of the underground buildings. It is so hard to comprehend why they thought it was worth building such thorough fortifications, leaving the Ardenes lightly defended, and nothing at all at the border with Belgium as it had promised to be neutral.

We called into the aire at Bitche, which had an excellent aire beside a Vauban fort on the top of a hill, then drove on passed Strasburg and Colmar to an aire at Fassenheim, just short of the crossing into Switzerland at Basel.

Monday 3rd. We crossed the Rhine on a tiny road across a weir and locks, which looked as if there was potential to stay the night. There was a 2.5k queue of lorries trying to get into Switzerland. We passed the watershed for the Rhine and the Rhone at Chatel St Denis. Straightforward drive past Basel and Bern, and Montreax to the road up to the Great St Bernard Pass, the watershed for the Rhone and the Po. Last time we took the tunnel as the pass was still closed, but this time we were able to tackle the pass, which on the Swiss side included some nasty hairpin bends and scary unguarded drops.

I had last visited the pass 52 years ago, and vaguely remember the dogs and the Monastery, so didn’t feel inclined to pay 8€ to see them again, however saw some in the distance going for a walk. It was very cold indeed as we wandered around, 7’C with a biting wind. Apparently the pass had been much favoured in Roman times, and in regular use during the summer months since then. The road on the Italian side was much better, with steady bends and gradients.

We found an aire at Castillon, not special but adequate and quiet.

Tuesday 4th. We decided to use the motorways to make the last stage of the journey easy, the motor ways were very quiet and good to start with. I’d researched the options and Google had sensibly suggested that there was a motorway that landed us to the east of Genoa, no problem. For reasons best known to its self, the sat nav chose the eastern route, the pay gate would not accept the card, and only gave instructions in Italian, eventually letting us through with instructions on how to pay within 15 days. Then landed us in the most awful traffic imaginable to get through Genoa………!?!

We did glimpse the collapsed bridge in the distance, and saw lots of bridge checking taking place. After Genoa the journey proceeded smoothly and we paid without problem at Lucca, where we easily found the aire we had stayed on before. We had a pleasant tree lined walk around the magnificent walls that surround the town. It is amazing they have stayed so complete, and are much loved by the locals.

Wednesday 5th. We had a happy day wandering around the town, visiting much loved spots and sketching. I met another urban sketcher when I was sitting in the Piazza Antiteatro, which is built on the bases of the walls of the Roman Anfitheatre. There were a collection of statues around the town, rather reminiscent of Henry Moore. The blue sky and fresh breeze was wonderful but did get quite warm later afternoon.

We had coffee in the square adjacent to where Puccini was born.

We love the individual Italian shops, lots of Art Deco, and were amused to see an advert for Elton John’ s farewell tour, last year they were counting down the days till the Rolling Stones gig.

Escape to Iberia 1-6 spring 2018

Friday 27th April. We set off toward Portsmouth in Molly, our new van, and had our lunch in the very wet New Forest, before driving through torrential rain to the port. We were loaded onto the Cap Finnistere and easily found our cabin which was on the deck that also had seating and restaurants. We had forgotten just how nice Brittany Ferries were, ( We had been very unimpressed with a DFDS ferry last year) and regretted all the food we had bought with us, as there was plenty of reasonably priced food on offer.

I do enjoy sailing out if Portmouth as there is so much to see, the navel ship Queen Elizabeth was in for a refit, and we could just see the Victory and Warrior through the mist. Sallyport also always looks charming, even in the rain. I managed to sit in the lounge area until the sea became ‘lumpy’ as we reached the western approaches, when I made a quick dash for the cabin. I think that any form of cruise is totally out of the question for me!

Saturday 28th. The sea gradually abated as we sailed into The Bay of Biscay, and when I eventually got up the sun was shining, and it was quite pleasant. However as we approached Spain the clouds gathered again and by the time we docked at 17.00, it was raining and no warmer than when we had left England. Once I had a signal I started to check the weather for our proposed route I saw that heavy snow showers were forecast for Tuesday morning. I think I may have given this diary the wrong title. We have already spent more nights in this van in the snow than any of our previous vans put together, the first incident being on the third day after her collection in November. I think we will have to amend our plans.

I had forgotten just how spectacular the route south is from Santandar. The rise is so sudden and the hills and valleys beautiful, even through the rain, which stopped when we reached where the countryside roughly flattens off. The sun came out and in the distance we could see the Picos covered in snow. We stopped for the night at Alar del Rey, the aire had disappeared but we easily found a spot beside the Canal du Cantabria. I didn’t know that Spain had any canals, thinking the land too mountainous, this canal looks maintained but little used, however there is a newly renovated warehouse adjacent. It is interesting that the spring is even later to arrive here than at home!

Sunday 29th. A bitterly cold night, woke up to put on a jumper at midnight! And still cold. Why did I not bring winceyette pyjamas, and thermal vests, long socks and big waterproof for the daytime?

We had a look at the Canal de Castilla, which starts in this town and runs down to Valladolid, I would love to know what was transported. The swallows were much in evidence over the canal. There was a magnificent restored warehouse all ready to be an interpretation centre but was sadly empty, and had been ready for use for some time. We drove on through far reaching views and past the San Miguel Arch, last vestige of a church and village that stood here in the 12th century. As we took pictures we heard our first cuckoo.

We found a place in the aire at Burgos and went out to explore. I was wearing so many layers but it hardly felt the 6′, with horizontal sleety showers. We firstly made our way to the elaborate Gothic cathedral which is noted for its details. There was so much to look at but what stood out for me was the wooden carved screen in the Capilla de St Ana, which I think told the story of the tree of Jesse. Also the star vaulted central dome, under which lies the tomb of El Cid, and in another chapel two unidentified marble tombs.

We then battled through the rain to the new Museo de la Evolution Humana, which details finds made at Atapuerca, N of Burgos, in 2007, where Europe’s oldest human fossil remains were found, dating back to 850,000BC. There have been subsequent finds at the spot spanning many stages of evolution. There is also a floor devoted to Charles Darwin, all most impressively displayed.

Going to be 2′ overnight rising to 3′ by 10.00!

Monday 30th. Another cold start, though possibly not quite as bad as previously, then we drove SE to Soria, and the South to Medinaceli. There was very little sign of spring, and the trees were not even showing buds. Sheep were still corralled into barns, and there was snow on distant hills. We crossed the infant Duero at Almaden, and wondered about following it East from Porto on our way back.

We did not hang about on our way as imagined that the aire, which was described as popular and scenic, would be busy, so were surprised when we arrived to find only a couple of vans and a handful of cars parked. It might be the weather which has snowed quite heavily since we arrived, and a forecast of -1C for the next two nights! I drew the village from the van, certainly not suitable for sitting outside! We bucked up courage to explore the village which is picturesque in a touristy kind of way, and well cared for. There was an imaginative archeological museum, which had worked hard on simple re-creations, and there are two impressive Roman Arches! The central square was being replaced and everywhere very quiet, tomorrow might be different as it is a bank holiday.

Tuesday May 1st. We slept in, I think we are confused by the light here, it stays light till surprisingly late. We decided to celebrate May day, and sunshine, albeit with v cold wind, by eating in town, and took our seats in La Ceramica st the prompt time of 13.00. Helpful staff made choosing local dishes easy, bread soup, and shepherds breadcrumbs were tastier than they sound.

Later we went for a walk around the edge of the town. Far reaching views up several river valleys. It was obvious that the town was much larger than now, as there were piles of rubble under the edges of the hilltop. We found the Puorta Arabe, and in the valley could identify a Roman aquaduct, and Iberian/Celtic settlement on opposite hill. We walked round to the castle that had been built by the Moors in 780, and we intrigued by the well restored keep with locked door. We scrambled round trying to look inside and were surprised to see the village graveyard inside! Later we found an impressive Arabic Mosaic preserved under glass, with a house partially suspended over it.

Most of the time we were still wearing hats and gloves but I did find a seat in the sunshine and managed to sit for 5 minutes enjoying the sun! However any thought of opening windows in the van out of the question! And still jumpers and socks at night as the temperature goes below freezing.

Wednesday 2nd May. We drove SE towards Cuenca, down quiet roads, here the trees were further out and a lovely spring green. Eventually we drove past a very large reservoir, it was alarming to see it barely half full in May! Perhaps the dam was weak. We were now level with Madrid and there were olive trees and much terracing of the hillsides. The cereal growing fields were much larger.

We stopped to buy LPG which had been sadly depleted due to much use of the heating, even overnight, and were rather worried when the machine could not deliver any, even with assistance. Just hope the next fuel station can help or we have a problem. Fortunately our new fridge is all electric, so it’s just hot water, cooking and heating that require gas.

We reached Cuenca and the aire, which was small and rather expensive, but useful. We climbed up beside the river and crossed a rather precarious bridge to the city. Andy stuck firmly to the centre of the bridge, but the trouble was that so did everyone else, so passing was challenging. The views of the town and the hanging houses over the gorges was wonderful especially from the Mirador at the top . On the way back down I visited the church of St Pedro which had a fine Mudijar ceiling. The Alcaszar area, where the Moorish castle had stood had been extensively excavated and the finds well presented. The town was re- conquered by Alphonso 8th in 1177 and I was very surprised to read he gave equal rights to Christians, Muslims and Jews within the town . A shame it did not last. I was disappointed that the museum which displays audiovisuals and artifacts of the famous silent Holy week procession did not open on Wednedays.

When we returned to Molly we decided to move on, firstly to seek another LPG station, I also fancied exploring the Serrania de Cuenca, spectacular landscape East of Cuenca, so we took the quiet main road towards through Teruel, and stopped at a very cosy aire at TorreBaya, beside a small arbouritum and one of the best sports centre I have seen. It was so much warmer, now at 2,500 ft above sea level instead of 4,000 last night! Interesting seeing several flocks of sheep with shepherds. There were lots of irrigation channels between the small fields and near every village and town every inch is carefully prepared for the next season’s crops.

Thursday 3rd. We drove to Teruel, where the LPG fortunately delivered, then visited the adjacent Al Campo supermarket. We then took the minor road to Albarracin, which is restored medieval town. We visited it in 2011, and I was keen to see it again. I cannot think of another place which gives so good an idea of a medieval town, nothing jars and I was waiting for a Shakespeare play to begin. There are hotels and this time I did glimpse one small discrete shop, but it is just as if the town had been asleep for 600 years, albeit much cleaner!

We then drove south east along quiet roads through pastures, over passes and through gorges stopping at picnic spots and statues. The road was so quiet that we came upon a dog asleep in the middle of the road. We finally spent the night above Uno beside the Fuente del Arenazo, a picnic spot near where we spent the night in 2011.

Friday 4th. Up in good time, as we drove back down to the valley there was frost on the grass! No wonder none of the small holdings are planted up yet! We took the wrong road and missed the road that went through the spectacular gorge. Soon we were heading south through terracotta fields contrasting with the spring green fields and evergreen oaks. At first there were very few olive trees, then the large fields gave way to lots of vineyards, but all the vines were cut down to almost ground level. I can’t imagine how they grow and support the grapes with no wires or other supports.

We then drove through an area called La Mancha, but the only windmils for Don Quixote to tilt were modern wind turbines! I caught right of an elderly couple bent over their allotment breaking up the soil with mattocks. The light was getting noticably brighter now, even if everyone in the villages were still wearing winter coats. There were lots of poppies and another yellow flower by the roadside.

Once we were on the N322 we were surrounded by olive groves and some of the time on a ridge with far reaching views! Our problems started when we reached Carzorla. We were aiming for a campsite that proved only suitable for tents and very tiny campervans. The road had been quite challenging to reach so we decided to drive on. Then we excelled ourselves!?! At first it did not seem too bad but then we came to tiny, tiny streets, I had my eyes closed, it was awful. We drove through a square and the road seemed to improve a tiny bit but at the end was a pinch point, and we got stuck! I had squeezed out and was trying to direct though but could see no way was it possible! Horrendous! Wedged! Total nightmare.

After some minutes the traffic behind calmly backed, Andy squashed back out , at the end of that bit did a 12 point turn and squeezed our way back up the streets which did not seem quite so bad in comparison with the place we had been stuck! And the Spanish drivers were so understanding and patient, no shouts of abuse, and we deserved it! We then found the aire on the other side of town and drank large amounts of rioja, and I don’t usually drink much!! This experience definitely comes under the category ‘Eat a live toad for breakfast and nothing else will seem so bad all day ‘ I might suggest 2 toads. Only damage sustained was a slightly grazed bumper above the wheel arch and mirror guard! And totally wrecked nerves!

Saturday 5th. A calm day wandering around the town. We found the spot where we had been stuck, Andy could almost reach across it with arms outstretched! The place where we did a 10 point turn turned out to be the Balcon de Zabaleta, a famous view point over the town, and up to the castle and mountains behind.

There was a festival taking place, with flowers and branches leading up to a decorated small shrine. And a lot of noise in the square below.

I wish Spanish shops were a bit more inviting, they seem so dark, I saw a craft shop with a very interesting window and glimpsed an Aladdin’s cave inside, but the doorway was full of the large proprietor, and it was obvious I would have to ask for something and not just comfortably browse.

We spent some time in the plaza De Santa Maria, beside a 16th century church wrecked by Napoleonic troops. We had more success with tapas this time, before climbing up to the castle which was started by the Moors and now housed a local museum. We were just in time for the guided tour! In Spanish. I would have liked to see more than the keep.

Really tired when we got back to the van but we had been up and down a lot of hills. Just in time before the rain started. We have seen lots of wild flowers, and swallows and house martins nesting.

Sunday 5th. We had intended to explore the National Park on our doorstep and even do some walking, but the day dawned grey and with rain forcast for later in the day we had had enough. Patches of blue started to shown as we left, but too late! We drove along a ridge on the very ridge of the park, so many ancient olive trees. Then through a region with many fruit trees, when we stopped I went to investigate and decided by examining the young fruit they were peach trees.

We reached the coastal strip at Mojacar, ( or mum’s car as the spell checker tried to tell me), low rise development but still more than we would like! However Camping Sopalmo was very pleasant, a small tidy site with helpful owner, even if I did disturb his Sunday lunch. Sunshine was lovely though with keen wind. Still not as warm as UK!

Monday 7th May. Peaceful day at Camping Solpamo. It was nice to just relax in sunshine at last during the morning, as well as catching up with jobs. During the afternoon was followed the track on the winter watercourse down to the sea, which naturally was further than it looked. It was surprising how many plants were thriving in such uncertain conditions, and that all the flowers were yellow!

We were very surprised to see a few campervans and caravans drawn up by the shore, and agreed that we did not fancy stopping there for the night, not remote enough. The track and coastal path continued and we followed it as far as a defensive Moorish lookout tower, Pirolicu Tower, which had impressive views. We had a very welcome beer at a beachside bar, and looked at a 18h century tower, Macenas Castle, that had many similarities to a martello tower at home. We then had a hard slog back up the watercourse, only enlivened by a flock of sheep following their shepherd.

Tonight might not be as peaceful with a baby of Alex’s age in the adjoining campervan. They seem to have an inordinate amount of gear in a very small campervan.

Tuesday 8th May. We did not hear the baby at all during the night, and that had me worried as well. We decided to go out in the van and explore more of the Park Natural de Cabo de Gata- Nijar. The coast road to Carboneras is extremely spectacular and sweeps down to the sea. It is a shame that the little cove was disfigured by an almost complete resort building that has been abandoned unfinished, there are so many of these, victims of the economic downturn.

After Carboneras I was surprised to see a large oil ?? Refinery. We decided to go further on to the park, so rejoined the motor way, then turned off at Campobermoso, a very poor town with large immigrant community, whom I assume work in the sea of polytunnels that surrounded the town. I knew of these tunnels, but nothing prepares you for the sight of so many and will make me re-think about food out of season!

Once in the national park again, the scenery returned to its desert like appearance, with lots of wild flowers. I was amazed at the amount of abandoned terracing, had the land once been more fertile, what had they been growing and where did they live? We came to the small seaside village of Las Negras, which I guess had once been a tiny fishing village, and now was devoted to very low key tourism. Most places were shut up, and a few tourists looked lost, apart from in the single active lively restaurant. The coastal scenery around was spectacular but the coast path was more than we could comfortably manage. We have been spoilt by the scenery around the coast of Dorset, and Devon and Cornwall.

We found an excellent supermarket in Carboneras, and solved the underground parking problem with parking in a side street. ( We are trying the dark greeny red tomatoes that are reputed to taste better – Raf tomatoes, I will report) . We then returned to Camping Solpamo, an exceeding good tiny campsite.

Wednesday 9th May. We left the lovely campsite, and drove out via Molzjar. The promenade ( think Eastbourne) seemed very pleasant after yesterday, perhaps we should have come here and eaten Italian ice cream, then wandered up to the old town above. However now we had to press on because I want to get to the Festival of the Courtyards at Cordoba, which I have had on my ‘ things to do’ list for some time.

We passed Sorbas, an interesting town set above a gorge, then past several ‘Wild West ‘re- creations, which were tourist attractions above Almeria. There was a lots of snow on the Sierra Nevada, and at the previous campsite the owner had said they were skiing there till last weekend! The mountaintops were covered in clouds. Guadix also looked interesting, with lots of troglodyte dwellings, some of which could be seen from the road.

There seemed to be loads of buttercups on the verges round Granada. I had tried to get tickets for the Alhambra, once I found you could book and print the ticket at home up to 3 months ahead. But when I tried I found all the tickets for May and June had been sold, probably to ticket touts which is why they are available locally at inflated prices. I could have booked for July! Now I know the system, I’ll book tickets well in advance as soon as we book a ferry!

Once past Granada there were green fields and vast acres of olive trees, I think this landscape suits me better than the desert one on the coast. I enjoyed the wild flowers but found the arid scenery rather depressing. We easily found the aire at Priego de Cordoba, and after a cup of tea set off to explore. It was a walk into town, past the bull ring, but through interesting streets with more normal shops, closed till later. The area of tiny streets around the castle was full of flowers and really charming. There was an impressive Balcon de Adarve, with views over the countryside. Elsewhere in the town wás an unusual fountain, with 3 layers. As we wandered back the shops had opened and the town was full of bustle.

Thursday 10th May. Quiet night at the aire and off in good time as wanted to get to the campsite promptish to get a space. It wa very grey, but lots of wild flowers by the roadside. Also lots of olive processing plants, and above the groves, the hills were thickly wooded. As we nearered Cordoba the verges were thick with broom, and the olives gave way to large cereal fields. No problem when you arrive at 10.30 here for space, mostly full by 16.00, I was immediately given a map of the Courtyards open to see.

I was told at the campsite they opened all day, I had read they opened at 17.00 during the week, and from noon at weekends. In reality they open 11-14, and 18-22.00! So it was as well we went straight into the city. I was not prepared for the large queue st the first one we tried to go in, but quickly found this was because they were tour groups, and give that one a miss, and go onto another.

The courtyards were every bit as charming as unexpected. Such a riot of colour, and in such a small space. And the rooms off looked cosy and cool. A bit salutary to think that originally the women would have been expected to live in that area and not go beyond the front door! After a disappointing tapas we came home for a rest before venturing out again.

We have been very confused about the Plaza de Colon, we keep going through it, there are all sorts of places named after it. Eventually the penny dropped (!) when we saw a tiled picture which we took to be Christopher Columbus!!

The courtyards seemed much quieter and more atmospheric during the evening. One of the courtyards had a group of singers which really added to the atmosphere. As we were preparing to go home, a local suggested we went with him so he could show us the winning balcony. It was on a modern house in a small development, it is hard to see how such a solid mass of flowers could be achieved by individual pots. He also showed us the patio of the president of the society, which we had already visited but it was good to see through the eyes of a local.

Friday 11th. Andy could not not face courtyards all day, so I wandered into town through the excellent parks and boulevards . It had been my intention to quietly sit and sketch in a peaceful courtyard, but a. I’m none too good on plants, and b. The courtyards are all far to busy to sit peacefully! I made the mistake of trying to visit the Alcazar Viejo patios, all close together. A big mistake. It was crowded out, with enormous queues, large groups. They are all wheelchair accessible, and each time a group of such arrived, or a group of nursery children, they were shepherded in, so we waited even longer. I should had given up long before; then had a lovely walk along beside the river, and much quieter patios in a another area, and past a couple of prize winning balconies.

Our evening stroll was much more pleasant, around more remote courtyards, and came across another group singing and dancing.

Saturday 12th. The night was punctuated by the cries of tawny owls who seemed to be perched in the branches just above the van. They woke us several times!

We had read that the Mezquita was open from 8.30 -9.30 and hoping that this would be quieter, as tour guides are not allowed then, we left the site at 7.45! The city was largely deserted and it was very chilly, so we were surprised to turn a corner and found a queue, at the wrong gate it transpired. It was quieter than later, and worked its usual magic.

The Mezquita is definitely my favourite building. I’m always impressed by the glimpse of the 3rd century floor from the first church on the site, for which there is documentary evidence; and most of all the mihrab, which shines with the 1,600 kg of gold cubes sent by the Emperor of Byzantium, as a gift.

I had hoped to sit drawing in the baroque cathedral in the centre during the mass which followed, but was spotted; when I made my way out later it was great to have the long aisles of columns to myself for a moment .

We found somewhere for a second breakfast, then walked through to the Roman bridge, for views over the city.

Later I tried a drawing in the courtyard outside the Mezquita but it was just too busy.

I wandered back through the streets passing a Roman temple and popping in to two churches, which happened to have weddings going on inside. Very long veils seem to be the order of the day in Spain. As in Greece, some of the guests seem to be spilling out of adjacent bars.

I then reached a square where there was Flamenco singing and dancing. I had read that a gravely voice and lots of feeling was essential, the singer had this in spadefulls. And I’m sure that the dancing was also most authentic, the female dancer especially put such feeling and verve into her dancing, throwing herself about, such accented moves.

I then caught the bus home to gather strength for the last lot of courtyards during the evening. We visited the last group of patios. I think I had managed to see about 40 of the 50 available to view! The queue outside the overall winner had to be seen to be believed. The police were in attendance to keep the road clear. The thing that made the patios charming as well as the flowers was the collections of memorabilia tastefully displayed. And the decorated wells that looked still used. Amongst the last was a really tiny patio that was incredibly cosy.

Afterwards we joined the crowds in the Plaza de Corredera where we sipped sherry till the promised flaminco concert started at 22.00. However there was an incredibly chilly breeze blowing throughout the square and it was not long before we were as cold as we had been in the morning, but with no hope of warming up. On our way back to the bus stop we glimpsed a procession, and watched an incredibly heavy statue and plinth make its unsteady way down a side street, with followers.

Sunday 13th. We came south from Codoba through lovely rolling countryside with few trees and far reaching views. The edges of the roads were bright with wild flowers, especially very deep red poppies. We aimed for the aire at Olvera, but the access road was blocked. However we managed to park and have a wander, up to the Moorish town centre at the top of the hill.

We had a drink in a tiny bar, called the Torre de Pan, then took the scenic route east, which included busy mountain passes, ( it was Sunday) up to Grazademia (which we recognised from our last visit, supposedly the wettest place in Spain) then down via incredible views to Arcos de la Frontiera.

I had very fond memories of our last visit to the town in 1998, I remember climbing up through the town in brilliant sunshine, declaring I wanted a house here. Well, I certainly did not recognise anywhere, though I am sure we came on the town from a different angle, and I did find some charming corners, but there are many places I now would prefer to live! And definitely could not cope with the ex-pats we saw round the town.

Monday 14th. We made our way south, so many wild flowers by the roadside, I have never seen so many poppies. We tried to find somewhere to stop in Medina Sidona, think we are still unnerved by previously being stuck, as we found somewhere in 1998. Our first attempt at somewhere to stop in Vejer led us to the sea near Conil de la Frontera, and was unbelievably awful, mile upon mile of seaside shacks and hovels. The beach might have been fun and full of windsurfers, but at sometime you would have to come out of the water. I’m not sure whether the high rise developments, or miles of shacks are worse.

However with a bit of effort we found somewhere in Vejer de la Frontiera, and Andy spent a very pleasant afternoon in a lovely park beside a row of windmills while I wandered the streets of the old town, and sketched.

Vejer was very pleasant indeed and the old town unspoilt. Apparently the women of the town had worn an outfit very similar to the full hijab, the Cobijado, a full long skirt and lined enveloping hood, until discouraged by Franco, but seen even up till the 1970’s. Interesting as we associate the outfit so strongly with Islam.

We then drove south towards Tarifa, and soon the Altas mountains appeared looking as close as nearby scenery. Enormous fields of wind turbines. And swarthy looking bulls with handsome families. However the countryside was green, with cork oaks, and would not have looked out of place in England. The campsites here looked better, and miles of deserted beaches, apart from the windsurfers. We parked in the run down aire at Terifa with the other hippies!

Every street in Terifa had a motor home parked on it. We did see a notice that said motor homes were not allowed to park anywhere in the municipality, and worried for a bit. The sea front was a mixture of smart, and run down port. The town has some surprisingly smart houses and shops, as well as a Moorish old town and castle. The story goes that when Guzman El Bueno was threatened with the death of his captured son unless he surrendered. He threw down his own dagger from the walls of the besieged castle, to kill the boy and refused to surrender. The only trouble is I’ve heard the identical story when visiting a Cathar castle in France, as well as one in Romania. A lot of it about.

We decided to risk a night in the car park, along with 20 others in varying states of repair. Really a shame this is not reinstated as a proper aire, that could earn the town a steady income, then perhaps tidy up all the vans scattered across the town.

Tuesday 15th. Uneventful night, we drove towards Algeciras to try to get a gòod view of Gibraltar, but there were no spots for photographs. Africa looked no further away than the Isle of Wight does from the mainland. There was a limited view from a beach, and then we tried a road to the lighthouse at Pinto de Carnero but the road drove past to an unexpected modern village.

We then retraced our steps to Terifa, and tried to find the campsite we remembered stopping with the children. We drove backwards and forwards and would still be doing it now had we not pulled into Camping Torre de la Pina ; admittedly we have road noise, but this is made up by an uninterrupted view of the sea and Africa from the open van back doors. The washing dried almost as soon as we put it out. And the receptionist listened to my description of the site we were seeking,and said it had new owners and is closed at the moment!

Wednesday 16th May. A lazy day at the campsite, Torre de la Pina. Gales were forecast and as we walked along the sand at low tide we were sandblasted by sand whipped up from the dunes after we had walked from the rocky outcrop on which the site is situated. The stata is pushed into weird shapes in the cliff and there are rows of ‘dragons teeth’ pushing up through the sand.

The other sites may be more sheltered, often amongst trees but they do not share the excellent views we are enjoying all the time. There were very few windsurfers or kite surfers around today. We are identifying the many ships using vessalfinder.com. I could see the wind turbines in the African coast whizzing round. Apparently the extra strong easterly winds here are often caused by the air being trapped between the Riff mountains and Southern Andalusia, and called the Levante.

Thursday 17th May. Another walk along the sand, this time much more pleasant with a more gentle wind, lots of sandpipers along the sand. There were an enormous number of windmills as we drove north, then skirted round Venez and north towards Jerez. Mlany egrets on the salt marshes around El Puerto de St Marie, from where we caught the ferry to Cadiz last time. We easily found the aire, at a motor home dealer on the Av Tio Pepe.

After lunch we caught the bus easily into Jerez, and wandered around, past impressive church fronts, St Miguel.

And the cathedral, with Tio Pepe, who is everywhere in the town.

We got totally lost getting a map totally upside down and then blaming spanish maps! Jerez is supposed to be the origin of flamenco, as well as the heart of Andalusia. I’m not sure I would go that far as I got so interested and involved with Cordoba. We will see.

Friday 18th. We thought we had better start our look for sherry. We had considered visiting the Tip Pepe Bodega, the works dominate the town, but decided that it would probably be too busy and commercialised, so revisited the Sanderman Bodega which we had been to 4 years ago, and were not disappointed. We had forgotten so much about the process which was very interesting, how the wine is kept a constant temperature,and is blended as it matures in oak casks.

We all became very convivial as we sampled the sherry afterwards, a couple who were touring for a fortnight and two girls who had spent their winter teaching Spanish as part of their degree course, the girls said they had never got used to Spanish meal times, and definitely not an evening out starting at 2am and going on till dawn. They said even at uni they used to be home by 3! We stumbled out into the sunshine afterwards. I remember feeling squiffly before but somewhat worse this time!

We came upon a locals’ cafe and ate the menu of the day once it had been translated by a friendly customer! My portrait as we sat in the cafe was noticeably looser than usual but rather better. I must drink before I draw! We then wandered round the town, before a shop- up in a convenient supermarket, we noticed that the car park had been an old winery, we had heard that sherry had been suffering a downturn in popularity despite local enthusiasm.

Saturday 19th. We collected the sherry from Sandermans, fortunately I noticed it was the wrong box.

I then wound my way to the Alcazar, where I spent a happy morning exploring. Whilst climbing the stairs in the Baroque Villaviencio Palace within the walls, I suddenly realised I had been here before, and further recognised the archeological remains in the grounds, but could not remember seeing anything else! Oh dear!

The whole complex was most interesting, the small mosque dated from the 12c. It had survived as it had been converted to a chapel. Also well preserved were the Arab baths, and the 10th-15th cent. archeological site included reconstructed waterwheels, cistern and reservoirs which also served the gardens, and castle in times of siege.

There were the remains of a lovely Royal pavilion, and wonderful views over the Alcazar and beyond to the Catedral, from the battlements. There was an interesting ‘country gate’ which was difficult to defend so was very narrow, with 3 sharp bends. In the palace there was the reconstructed municipal pharmacy from the 19th century.

After a happy time sketching, I joined Andy at the Cruz Blanca, where we enjoyed the tapas and caught up with pictures of the royal wedding, toasting with sherry of course. Then we had a wander and then had tea and pastries around the corner. Somehow just did not want anything more than strawberries for tea.

Sunday 20th. We left Jerez in sunshine, and drove through quiet Sunday towns, where we saw cherios and chocolate vans drawn up outside churches, with a queue already formed. We drove round the Donanas park, and Seville, and later saw a row of storks with purpose built nests on a row of pylons.

We crossed the wide river into Portugal and were not a little out to see a demand that all ‘foreigners’ had to pull into a side road and put in their credit cards to pay an undisclosed deposit to use the motorways. We don’t want to use expensive motorways and think countries are best discovered on quiet side roads. The nearby police office said it was not responsible, but suggested if we ignore the machine and come off on the second turning we could use national roads. Not the way to welcome visitors!

We suppressed the strong urge to turn back and return to Spain and drove on through very poor roads to Tervira, when we stopped beside the river a short walk from the town. As soon as we parked a thunderstorm broke over head, and it rained for the afternoon. Mmm mmm!

However we ventured out once the rain stopped and were quite taken with the town. Lots to see, and although lots of visitors did not seem to be spoilt by tourism, and retained a lot of charm.

Monday 21st. We had a shop up first thing at the market, which fortunately was adjacent to our parking area, then wandered, into town. I enjoyed glimpsing in the haberdashers shop, which looks just like the one around Mount Road I remember from the early 60’s. I must find something to buy in there. Then into the excellent hardwear shop, which sold every size of shackle and screw ever invented. The town is most attractive, with pleasant streets and a lovely waterfront.

We walked up to the castle, which is reputed to have been developed by the Phoenicians and the Romans before the Moors built the one we climbed over. It contains a lovely little botanical garden.

In the afternoon took a ferry past the salt pans, over to the Ille de Tavira, which is a long sand spit just offshore.

On our return I wandered round sketching. I asked in the tourist office about the several large derelict buildings overshadowed by enormous chimneys, a question that was received with some discomfort. They are apparently disused tuna canning factories abandoned in the 1950s onwards. A chimney we can see from the van, adjacent to a road, has a most perilous crack, another has a resident stork. However we have been able to have our back windows open overlooking a tidal disused salt pan, that has had a heron feeding and martins darting over head. A most pleasant evening stroll around the town.

Tuesday 22nd. First job was to find somewhere to sort out the doings, as we are wild camping with lots of others on a permitted spot within such easy walking distance of the town. The local campsite that was supposed to offer services was closed, so we drove a few miles eastward to a tiny resort with a large aire that was stuffed with large campervans, ( no vans at all like ours). As far as I could see the only attraction was a nearby beach, the village had little to offer but holiday apartments. Yet some people seem to have been there a long while. We were very glad to pay our money and escape back to our view over the salt pans.

I wandered into town after admiring the view from the bridge over the Rio Gilao, I went to the Islamic Museum, housing local finds, then up the hill to the Palacio da Galeria which housed local art works, and also a UNESCO initiative showcasing the Mediterranean diet. They had chosen a number of local towns across the Mediterranean, (yes, I know Portugal does not touch the Med but apparently it counts) and was most amused to see another highlighted town was Koroni, in the Peleponesse, another town which we are very fond of!

After lunch I went to see a short Fado concert, performed in the Igreja da Misericordia, lined with blue tiles dating back to 1760 and an incredibly ornate altar piece. I was most impressed with the fado, which in today’s presentation was much lighter than the Flaminco enjoyed last week, also featured a special 12 string guitar. We ate out into the evening choosing an understated restaurant.

Wednesday 23rd. We had a good shop up at the market, fish, including freshly caught tuna off Tariva, meat and far too much fruit including strawberries, nectarines and cherries. We bought a fruit we did not recognise, which when we cut it I remembered it was a custard apple. We then drove WSW north but parallel with the busy coast through lovely countryside. When we stopped for lunch we took pictures of the rock citrus which smells so strongly everywhere, the countryside looked barren, and had possibly been cleared some time ago following a fire, but when I looked around there were 7 different wildflowers at my feet.

We passed an elderly gentleman riding a scooter, who had his walking stick hanging from his handle bars. In a primary school playground the children were wearing an overall, I remember thinking what a good idea the uniform was. I had also forgotten the charm of Portuguese chimney pots, with their varying designs. I also saw regular buildings beside the road, that turn out to belong to road maintenance men, the buildings had distances to the nearby towns picked out in tiles.

Eventually we drove into the depths of the countryside to an isolated Dutch aire, close to Sao Bartolomeu de Messines. We were the only customers but the owner reported the site was already 70% full for next winter! We could manage without hookup, with our 2 solar panels and 4 batteries but I don’t think we are going to try, and the owner expressed surprise that people could cope with being in one place for that long. I definitely need my friends and my toys, not to mention my grandchildren for that long over the winter!

An afternoon stroll showed us so many wild flowers, yet the owner said they were past their best.

Thursday 24th May. After a lot of dithering we decided to stop on for the day at Camperstop Messines, it really is a lovely spot, and feels so far from anywhere yet only few miles inland from the hectic coast. In the morning I went for a stroll up a nearby hill, I was initially worried by the sound of barking dogs from a nearby farm, but as I climbed higher, could see that they were driving a herd of sheep onto a neighbouring hill. Interesting, as aĺl the sheep we had seen in Spain were being led by shepherds, which makes the biblical stories so much more understandable.

After lunch we had an amusing effort of trying to connect a sunshade to the van, as well no one was watching, then had another wander. We were amazed just how quiet the countryside seems here, often no sound at all, or at most sheep bells or birdsong. I counted 4 sorts of butterfly when I went through the wild flowers walk again, including one that was indistinguishable from the leaf it had landed on.

It’s just a shame it was so chilly for quite a bit of the day, with a cool breeze, and little better forcast.

Friday 25th. We woke up to light rain which gradually cleared as we headed for Monchique, up in the hills before the east coast. A policeman signalled for us to pull over and then decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. The EN 267 took us through lovely wooded hills, Andy said it could easily be the Amazon jungle. We stopped for shopping in Monchique, outside the supermarket were a row of washing machines.

We joined the coast road, which we had travelled in 2014, and stopped once more at the Praia do Amado, beyond Carrapateire, a lovely beach with rust coloured rocks and very popular with surfers. The entire Cote de Vicentina is an unspoilt 120km national park, which stretches north from Sagres, and the ‘corner’of Portugal.

We took a walk along the cliff path, past a newly furbished fishing cove, with purposebuilt huts for the fishermen at the top of the cliff, and the site of a 12 century Islamic seasonal fishing village on the cliff. We glimpsed some storks but they were not at their nesting site; and had a beer at the popular cliff top restaurant.

Then we sat on the beach, where I attempted to paint. After watching the sun sink into a veil of cloud from the viewpoint, we joined the other wild campers for the night. At sunset there were still at least 10 surfers in the water.

Saturday 26th. Peaceful night, and a pleasant wander right along the beach after breakfast. The waves cannot have been right first thing, as the surfers seemed slow to start. At lunch time we made our way up to the restaurant on the top of the cliff, Sitio do Forno, where we overlooked the Islamic fisherman’s village. The portions were tasty and very generous. Further on we could see and hear two storks doing a mating ritual on an isolated rock.

Then we wandered back, and moved back to the main road, then through Aljezur, where we turned along a rough road for 3 miles to get to Praia da Amoreira. The road follows the river valley past fields and salt pans, finally reaching a large but much quieter beach. I can only assume they are the wrong sort of waves for surfing, but look fine for belly boarding, in fact it is an ideal family beach.

The sandy beaches continue up the river, where small children could play even more safely, although the river does flow quite swiftly. We managed to get a spot right beside the dunes and the sea, a wonderful view, especially with the back doors open. In the evening I followed a small path up through a nature reserve full of yet more flowers. I learn that one flower I had noticed everywhere was a coastal snapdragon. Another, called a Hottentot fig, was a much hated invasive species.

Sunday 27th. We left the Praia da Amoreira in mist, although the surf must have been better behaved as the surfers were beginning to pour in. We drove on via Oxeceixe, a little white town with a useful collection of shops and cafes set on a steep hillside topped with a windmill. Then down the river valley to the mouth of the river. There had once been a small fishing village here, but it had been subsumed by a tiny resort, the single road that ran steeply straight down to the sea, still in existence.

We parked in the aire high above the beach and set off along the coast path, seeking coastal nesting storks. The track desended into sand which was difficult to walk on, but surrounded by wild flowers, and then we found the storks, first one, then a whole colony on inaccessible outcrops in the sea. We counted 7 nests with 2 or 3 chicks in each. We could see them so clearly, the chicks already quite a size! So exciting when dad bought home food! Over head large numbers of swifts.

I wandered on to a viewpoint where I could see far south towards Sagres and north towards Lisbon, rocky coast all the way. On the way back the storks were being mobbed by a solitary seagull who appeared to have his nest close by. We then walked down the hill to the beach and sand spit. Where the river met the sea it was narrow with high cliffs, which became more gentle inland.

Monday 29th. There as a strong wind blowing all night, which had hardly abaited by the morning. We set off for Cabo Sardao, the lighthouse a typical Portuguese one. Much more limited array of flowers. There we were lucky enough to see more cliff nesting storks, one with very young chicks in the nest, another such closer, with one stork on sentry duty quite close by and two more nests much further down the jagged outcrop. I was most concerned about the two babies in the bottom nest, whose parents had left them unattended. Apparently these storks are unique in not migrating but stay in such a perilous situation all year round.

We then moved on for lunch to the river shore opposite Vila Nova de Milfontes, a lovely spot if still plagued by the wind.

I was worried to see the development of plastic greenhouses that so blight parts of Andalusia. Drove north through Porto Covo, past Praia Grande towards Sines, which I had forgotten was surrounded by a power station and oil refinery. I thought how much it spoilt the view until we stopped for LPG for our cooking and fuel for the van! And want electricity to do the washing tomorrow! After a shop-up we went to a small campsite to catch up with our chores and spread our toys out for a couple of days. But sadly not successful in escaping the wind.

Tuesday- Thursday 31st May. Few quiet days on campsite, catching up with washing (lots) and seeing lots of wild flowers in the local unmade up lanes.

There are storks near here nesting on pylons, where special purpose built wire platforms have been provided for the them, one pylon is a proper block of flats with 7 nests on it. Weather better on Thursday with warm sunshine.

Friday 1st June. We drove east to Alvito, a small town with interesting Mudijar chapel built on the edge of the town as protection against the plague. We eventually gained admittance and were impressed by the ceiling painting, lots of musical angels including one playing an organ, while another pumped the bellows. I noticed that the pousada/castle had a reasonably priced restaurant and we had a wonderful meal, overlooking the castle courtyard. Andy was most impressed with his stuffed mushroom stuffed with quails eggs, while my chocolate pudding was the best I’d ever had, the chef said the secret ingredient was ham!

Saturday 2nd. We moved on to Beja, we first visited the castle, with views over the town. Here I asked at the tourist information about the Visigoth museum, he replied that it was closed today but after questioning said it would be open on Monday. I was surprisedat this, as most museums are closed in Europe on Mondays. When someone else’s question revealed confusion as to which day it was, we went to see for ourselves, and the museum was open. Sadly although it had lots of impressive carvings, it had nothing about the Visigoths themselves despite the fact they built the church in the 6th century.

We saw two old ladies in the black long dresses, with long headscarves we used to see. We then moved on to the Convento de Nosse Senhora da Conceicao. Inside the baroque chapel was so over the top, with gold carved wood. Andy said one of the wooden angels would not have looked out of place on a fairground ride or a temple to Shiva. Lots of the tiles in the cloisters were elaborate and very old. The convent was famous in the 17th century for a series of published letters between a nun and a French cavalry officer who had been posted to the town, however the originals have never been found.

We moved onto Serpa for the night, to a very reasonable municipal campsite, 8€, which boasted great facilities including a mountain bike washing machine!

Sunday 3rd. The morning was so cold that a child was playing near a tent wearing a padded jacket and bobble hat. Serpa boasted an 11th cent aquaduct which had a huge 17th cent wheel pump attached. I spent a morning painting the quaint Moorish quarter below the walls, I then discovered that the castle was open and was able to look down on the town, and note how tiny the houses were, many seemed to have front door and two windows, and largely back to back.

We then went on to Moura, which seemed to us to be a rather sad place. We climbed to the castle, which was only really memorable for the story of the end of the Moors’ 500 years in the town. The bridegroom of the Moorish Princess was ambushed on his way to his wedding and the Christian knights disguised themselves in his clothes. When the princess opened the gate, the knights rushed inside and Moura Saluqiyya threw herself from the tower. The door of the 16th century church had a fine doorway, and a balcony with altar on the tower, where the prisoners over the road could see the priest celebrate mass.

We drove onto to spend the night at Estrela, a village now almost surrounded by the Alqueva reservoir, right up to back gardens . When we visited here in 2014 I remember thinking how awful it must be to see your family’s olive trees vanish under the waters. There had been some effort to establish a sailing centre but the only boats were two small motor launches off the jetty, and the village shop was closed and for sale. Some swallows were collecting mud from puddles adjacent. I followed one village road some distance to where there were some rural cottages mostly for sale, and the road then disappeared into the lake, with one cottage standing alone on a tiny island.

Monday 4th. We moved onto Evora, where we parked beside the impressive aquaduct and went to explore the town. It was cold and wet, and we dressed accordingly only to be too warm when the sun shone in the afternoon. We saw the Temple of Diana and had a general wander.

Tuesday 5th. I spent a happy morning sketching round the town. I drew in the Praca de Giraido, and watched while a new street cleaner was demonstrated. You know how difficult it is to chose a new hoover, then realised that it would put all those industruous lady sweepers we saw everywhere out of a job, and no chance of another one with unemployment so high. Which might explain the popularity of the Communist party everywhere.

We are so always impressed with the individual shops in Portugal, always so well presented. And the houses so tiny, some seemed no wider than the front door, almost like the micro houses advertised in London.

I met Andy for lunch and we had a wander down to the Jardin Public, which ran along the old walls, then went back to the Igreja de Sao Joao, 1711, which is famous for its tiles. I had a pleasant time trying to sketch, good to be out the cold wind.

The Museum de Evora had some collected doorways and windows very cleverly set within the fabric of the building, as well as other interesting marble.

We moved onto the aire at Terrugem for the night, a pleasant quiet spot near the bull ring. Apparently killing the bull became illegal in Portugal in the 1920s, little sign of bull rings in use.

Wednesday 6th. Getting increasingly fed up with the weather. We drove up to an old favourite, Marvao, which is set 850m above the surrounding countryside overlooking Spain. I spent a very happy afternoon sitting in the garden below the castle sketching. The aire has a wonderful position below the town, with a walk up the old roadway, and through a stagggered gateway. The walls run all the way around the town and the walk around the castle walls rather perilous!

Thursday 7th. We moved on to the nearby town of Castillo de Vide, a charming larger town, with a Jewish quarter below the castle walls with the steepest streets I have ever seen, and a medieval settlement within the castle walls. I settled to draw the Fonte da Vila, until it came on to rain, the weather seemed to be getting worse and worse.

I visited the tiny synagogue which has been restored, and once again wished I could read Portuguese. The weather got worse as the evening wore on, we had the heating on to have a shower. Consulting the forecast rain was predicated for our destinations for the next 4 days. Such a shame to miss Batalha, Tomar and Coimbra but this was getting so depressing. Grey skies for as long as I can remember.

Friday 8th. The van was rocked by rain and strong winds during the night. We visited the local market before a shop up at Pingo Doce. Then we set off to see the local Menhirs and Dolmans on a scenic drive below the town, through fields of purple flowers and scattered cork oaks. I realise the spring flowers would not have survived this long in normal temperatures. We easily found 7m high Menhir de Meada, surrounded by wild flowers and glimpsed other antiquities as well as a pleasant aire beside the reservoir, before the rain set in again…….and we headed for Spain.

Once we arrived at Marida we had travelled 60 miles and the temperature had risen 8′! We wandered round, last visited 20 years ago but could not remember anything. We visited the Roman Theatre and Anfitheatre, impressive what remains then wandered down to the Roman Bridge, remarkable for being the longest built at 800m. We were very surprised to see lots of Roman soldiers marching towards us and watched them assemble and then march through the town!

Saturday 9th. I went into town, having a Roman festival, and settled to watch a ballet rehearsal in front of the Temple of Diana. Then wandered down to the large and mostly empty Alcazaba, where there was a Roman legionaries encampment, and I met Alan, English and now living in Spain who explained to me about his legion, Republican and BC 250. Although volunteers they were paid some expenses by the local government. He said that his legion was really depleted as everyone had to work on their vineyards and olive groves, that they had been unable to get onto during the awful spring.

Andy joined me for lunch, and we sst on a balcony overlooking the Temple of Diana area, we were amazed how many local people had dressed up in costume, right down to tiny babies in togas and even a decorated pram! Everywhere we looked so many people were in costume. We went back in the evening when there was a parade of citizens through the town .

Sunday 10th. We set off for Trujillo, another grey day but promised spring on Monday and Tuesday and summer starting with avengance on Wednesday, with 30′, which will be a shock to all. We found people having their Sunday lunch outside but with patio heaters, we could feel the heat as we walked past. We had parked beside the unused bull ring, and saw some small children acting out a fight in the impressive square. Little brother was the bull.

The impressive square had a statue of Francesco Pizarro, it started off as a statue of Cortes but when Mexico didn’t want it, it was renamed as Pizarro and given to Trujillo. There were a handsome crop of churches and mansions up the hill by the enormous castle, but the glory of the town was the central square, dominated by so many conquistador mansions, and built with their ill gotten gains. The most impressive belonged to Pizarro family and bore a grand coat of arms which included his ships but sadly the building looked about to collapse. So many stork families on so many church towers.

During the evening I managed to wipe all 10 days of diary and had to rewrite. There was also a deafening noise from some considerable distance away, a fair, and the dustbin men came at 23.40!

Monday 11th. Promised spring today but looks like it’s been postponed yet again, and grey once more! I read that the good weather in UK will continue all summer, after a blip as we get home, I’ll believe that when I see it! 16′ as I settled to sketch in the square at 11. Spring might be arriving this evening! Patio heaters still burning at lunchtime!

Monday 11th June. I spent quite a bit of the day in the Plaza Mayor happily sketching, where I could hear the storks clicking their beaks in their nests above me. As well as a vista I drew the coat of arms on the Palace de Conquista, which included the faces of Pizarro and his South American wife. I was worried by the state of the building, and when later I saw that money was intended to do up the little- used 1848 bull ring, I thought the money could be better used maintaining the square, which is their main tourist destination, and on which the town relies.

After tea I went for a stroll without bags and cameras, and discovered a whole new area within the castle walls, with yet more conquistador mansions. I also popped into the church of St Francis, which had been built on the site of the mosque. As the wind dropped it became noticeably warmer, and the clouds seemed to be moving away at last.

Tuesday 12th. Blue skies at last as we woke up. Drove north through pleasant countryside to reach the Vera mountains, lots of barns built with lots of ventilation, for drying local pimentos. We stopped at Jaranvilla de la Vera, where we met the most helpful tourist information person ever. Manuel was able to explain in detail and draw detailed pictures upside down on the map, and explained about the special style of architecture locally. We went on to see a couple of the villages mentioned, Cuacos de Yusta and Pasoroa with their half timbered houses, though sadly some in a poor state of repair, we could have bought a typical one for 10,000€.

Above Ciscos was the Monastery of Yusta, where Charles 1st Spain and 5th of Austria came after giving his throne to Philip 2nd. His ‘natural’ son, Don John of Austria was bought to live in Yusta to be near his father and there was a very touching 19th painting in the Monastery. The place was interesting because it was so much more comfortable and even cosy compared with Philip’s Escorial palace we visited last time in Spain. The tranquil woodland setting was charming.

We looked at the door of a church in Cuacos and immediately a gentleman arrived to unlock and give a very detailed tour in Spanish, of which we may have guessed half a dozen words. The barrel roof was of a most unusual lofty brick construction, can’t imagine how it was done. There were also many statues which took part in their Easter parade.

Eventually made it over the hill to the valley of Jerte, famous for its cherries. In the distance the mountaintops still had snow!! The Rio Jerte campsite was unfortunately 80% sad and very tatty statics, which was a shame as the facilities were good. However needed to do the washing and sort a few things.

Wednesday 13th. After jobs, wandered into Navaconcejo where a sizable but usual market was taking place, I then discovered an area of charming half timbered houses, giving a very good idea of what so many places in the Middle Ages must have looked. Why did we chase round after a handful yesterday! Looking onto so many garages and workrooms, cherries being sorted in every one. At last warm and sunny.

Thursday 14th. We drove NE up the Vale de Jerte, passing so many cherry cooperatives and businesses. We stopped to buy a box (now sadly depleted) the ladies were sorting the cherries very thoroughly on a trestle table. Usual price seems to be 5€ for 2kg. We climbed over a pass onto a plateau with very different scenery. Upland pastures and the odd ham processing factory. Then we dropped into the valley, where the scenery started to become boring; and along to Avila.

Avila is notable for the 11th cent. walls which encompass the town, probably the best complete medieval set of fortifications, but look much renovated. The parking spot was conveniently placed, we were unable to find the camp site we stayed in 1998. We remember walking up the hill through gardens and small holdings, and vividly remember a man redirecting a tiny irrigation system. I would guess they are now under the new housing that surrounds the town.

A very likable town, well presented and interesting.

We made our way to the church of St Teresa, a 16th century saint famous for her visions and reorganizing the Carmalites, there was a new statue of St Teresa in front of the church. I had remembered another one from our last visit, so we searched the town, Andy even found a picture of one in Rome he thought I might be thinking of, but eventually we found her just outside the town walls…… and I thought I preferred the new one, more sympathetic. So I came back to the van to collect my chair and went back to draw her.

Later we had an evening walk around the walls, lovely light throughout the city.

Friday, 15th. Easy drive to Segovia, through pleasant undulating scenery that was full of poppies, yellow great mullion and a purple flower I can’t name. There was still snow on the mountains towards Madrid. We easily found the aire and the bus stop for no.5 into town.

The Aquaduct was really magnificent, 894m long and went right up to the walled city where the water supply went underground to reach the Alcazar. Started by the Romans, it was in use till recently.

The town was very pleasant indeed, busy with lots of tourists especially Americans, but not spoilt. The cathedral bordering the Plaza Major was very elaborate. There were also decorated buildings, very like pargitting in East Anglia; also noticed over pointing between the stones, which we know from round Shaftesbury leads to deterioration, as we could see at the castle.

The Alcazar was out on a spur, jutting into pleasant countryside, also with poppies! Looking back at the town we could still see snow on the mountains behind! The castle had been the royal residence in the Middle Ages for the Castilian kings, but had burnt down in 1862, and been reconstructed in a very ‘over the top’ way. It was easy to see why it had inspired Disney! Note storks beside memorial.

Easily caught the bus back to the aire, and returned in the evening when Spain was playing Portugal in the world cup. Not in the slightest interested in football, but wanted to support the underdog! We could hear lots of shouts and cheers as we walked around, and the town went very quiet after the score was equalised in the dying minutes of the game. Unfortunately the quiet did not last once we went to bed, there seemed to be a local race track for motorbikes locally, someone started to play football after midnight and the bins were emptied at 3am on the dot!

Saturday 16th. Drove North to Valladolid, where we attempted to park to do some shopping, we could see the supermarket car park with plenty of room but unable to get there due to height barriers! Eventually parked in nearby street where we were fortunately able to take the trolley. Then drove NE through yet more wild flowers, again poppies and great mullion. We agreed we had never seen so many wild flowers as this holiday, nor birds of prey. We could see quite a bit of snow on the Picos Mountains.

We easily found the Camino de Santiago campsite on the edge of the village of Castrojeriz, a small family campsite with many regular customers. The site also has a hostel for pilgrims, the Camino does seem to be the village’s raison d’etre. Above us on the hill was a templar castle. We ate in the popular campsite restaurant, food rather average but great atmosphere. The owner showed us that had had been listed in the Guardian as being amongst the 20 best camping sites in Europe!

Sunday. Andy had a lazy day round the site whilst I went off drawing just outside the site and in the adjacent village. I seemed to turn into a tourist information service and was able to direct several people, everyone assumed I was local. One lady said to her friend that now she had a chance to try her Spanish, as she turned towards me I said “Not with me.” As I carried my small rucksack through the village, several people passed me and said “Buen Camino”, I felt a fraud!

I learnt that the Templar castle above the village had been started by the Romans, rebuilt from the 700’s onwards and largely destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake. The flowers during the evening stroll out beyond the village were lovely, I don’t remember seeing wild cornflowers before. I could see in the low light that all the hills were extensively terraced.

Monday 18th. Up in time to have good walk through the long village, and out the other side to see the long parade of pilgrims climbing up the hill beyond, looking rather like a hill on the South Downs! I was very worried about one pilgrim, by herself, and very overloaded, she was staggering and weaving from side to side, and taking many more steps than necessary.

When I got back to the van I found that the sailing had been delayed by 3.5 hours, so I was able to continue my walk, popping into the nearby church of My lady of the Apple Tree, most unusual with two main high altars, and naves at right angles. Then walked along the Camino for some distance once again admiring flowers. And pilgrim watching.

Then set off for easy drive to Santandar, and a wait on the dockside where we chatted to a fellow Vantage van owner.

Tuesday 18th. Calm channel thank goodness; most amusingly, Bobby crossed channel the same time as us, we waved to Charlotte in Jersey, who crossed on Sunday!

Back home safely, somewhat shocked by the rushhour traffic.

Thoughts about holiday:

  • Predominant memories, wild flowers, especially poppies, storks and birds of prey.
  • We are not generally fans of Spanish and Portuguese food, eating out ( but must try more pousadas). Ice cream not special. Excellent fresh fruit and salad ingredients.
  • Tapas varied widely, poor in tourist destinations.
  • Kindness and courtesy everywhere. Children always well behaved. Even babies will sit for hours while parents chat in cafes.
  • Prefer wild west coast of Portugal, and generally inland, than the desert like region of the far South of Spain.
  • No need to use expensive motorways in Portugal if just wandering like us. Roads in Spain fantastic.

Escape to Iberia 6.

Monday 11th June. I spent quite a bit of the day in the Plaza Mayor happily sketching, where I could hear the storks clicking their beaks in their nests above me. As well as a vista I drew the coat of arms on the Palace de Conquista, which included the faces of Pizarro and his South American wife. I was worried by the state of the building, and when later I saw that money was intended to do up the little- used 1848 bull ring, I thought the money could be better used maintaining the square, which is their main tourist destination, and on which the town relies.

After tea I went for a stroll without bags and cameras, and discovered a whole new area within the castle walls, with yet more conquistador mansions. I also popped into the church of St Francis, which had been built on the site of the mosque. As the wind dropped it became noticeably warmer, and the clouds seemed to be moving away at last.

Tuesday 12th. Blue skies at last as we woke up. Drove north through pleasant countryside to reach the Vera mountains, lots of barns built with lots of ventilation, for drying local pimentos. We stopped at Jaranvilla de la Vera, where we met the most helpful tourist information person ever. Manuel was able to explain in detail and draw detailed pictures upside down on the map, and explained about the special style of architecture locally. We went on to see a couple of the villages mentioned, Cuacos de Yusta and Pasoroa with their half timbered houses, though sadly some in a poor state of repair, we could have bought a typical one for 10,000€.

Above Ciscos was the Monastery of Yusta, where Charles 1st Spain and 5th of Austria came after giving his throne to Philip 2nd. His ‘natural’ son, Don John of Austria was bought to live in Yusta to be near his father and there was a very touching 19th painting in the Monastery. The place was interesting because it was so much more comfortable and even cosy compared with Philip’s Escorial palace we visited last time in Spain. The tranquil woodland setting was charming.

We looked at the door of a church in Cuacos and immediately a gentleman arrived to unlock and give a very detailed tour in Spanish, of which we may have guessed half a dozen words. The barrel roof was of a most unusual lofty brick construction, can’t imagine how it was done. There were also many statues which took part in their Easter parade.

Eventually made it over the hill to the valley of Jerte, famous for its cherries. In the distance the mountaintops still had snow!! The Rio Jerte campsite was unfortunately 80% sad and very tatty statics, which was a shame as the facilities were good. However needed to do the washing and sort a few things.

Wednesday 13th. After jobs, wandered into Navaconcejo where a sizable but usual market was taking place, I then discovered an area of charming half timbered houses, giving a very good idea of what so many places in the Middle Ages must have looked. Why did we chase round after a handful yesterday! Looking onto so many garages and workrooms, cherries being sorted in every one. At last warm and sunny.

Thursday 14th. We drove NE up the Vale de Jerte, passing so many cherry cooperatives and businesses. We stopped to buy a box (now sadly depleted) the ladies were sorting the cherries very thoroughly on a trestle table. Usual price seems to be 5€ for 2kg. We climbed over a pass onto a plateau with very different scenery. Upland pastures and the odd ham processing factory. Then we dropped into the valley, where the scenery started to become boring; and along to Avila.

Avila is notable for the 11th cent. walls which encompass the town, probably the best complete medieval set of fortifications, but look much renovated. The parking spot was conveniently placed, we were unable to find the camp site we stayed in 1998. We remember walking up the hill through gardens and small holdings, and vividly remember a man redirecting a tiny irrigation system. I would guess they are now under the new housing that surrounds the town.

A very likable town, well presented and interesting.

We made our way to the church of St Teresa, a 16th century saint famous for her visions and reorganizing the Carmalites, there was a new statue of St Teresa in front of the church. I had remembered another one from our last visit, so we searched the town, Andy even found a picture of one in Rome he thought I might be thinking of, but eventually we found her just outside the town walls…… and I thought I preferred the new one, more sympathetic. So I came back to the van to collect my chair and went back to draw her.

Later we had an evening walk around the walls, lovely light throughout the city.

Friday, 15th. Easy drive to Segovia, through pleasant undulating scenery that was full of poppies, yellow great mullion and a purple flower I can’t name. There was still snow on the mountains towards Madrid. We easily found the aire and the bus stop for no.5 into town.

The Aquaduct was really magnificent, 894m long and went right up to the walled city where the water supply went underground to reach the Alcazar. Started by the Romans, it was in use till recently.

The town was very pleasant indeed, busy with lots of tourists especially Americans, but not spoilt. The cathedral bordering the Plaza Major was very elaborate. There were also decorated buildings, very like pargitting in East Anglia; also noticed over pointing between the stones, which we know from round Shaftesbury leads to deterioration, as we could see at the castle.

The Alcazar was out on a spur, jutting into pleasant countryside, also with poppies! Looking back at the town we could still see snow on the mountains behind! The castle had been the royal residence in the Middle Ages for the Castilian kings, but had burnt down in 1862, and been reconstructed in a very ‘over the top’ way. It was easy to see why it had inspired Disney! Note storks beside memorial.

Easily caught the bus back to the aire, and returned in the evening when Spain was playing Portugal in the world cup. Not in the slightest interested in football, but wanted to support the underdog! We could hear lots of shouts and cheers as we walked around, and the town went very quiet after the score was equalised in the dying minutes of the game. Unfortunately the quiet did not last once we went to bed, there seemed to be a local race track for motorbikes locally, someone started to play football after midnight and the bins were emptied at 3am on the dot!

Saturday 16th. Drove North to Valladolid, where we attempted to park to do some shopping, we could see the supermarket car park with plenty of room but unable to get there due to height barriers! Eventually parked in nearby street where we were fortunately able to take the trolley. Then drove NE through yet more wild flowers, again poppies and great mullion. We agreed we had never seen so many wild flowers as this holiday, nor birds of prey. We could see quite a bit of snow on the Picos Mountains.

We easily found the Camino de Santiago campsite on the edge of the village of Castrojeriz, a small family campsite with many regular customers. The site also has a hostel for pilgrims, the Camino does seem to be the village’s raison d’etre. Above us on the hill was a templar castle. We ate in the popular campsite restaurant, food rather average but great atmosphere. The owner showed us that had had been listed in the Guardian as being amongst the 20 best camping sites in Europe!

Sunday. Andy had a lazy day round the site whilst I went off drawing just outside the site and in the adjacent village. I seemed to turn into a tourist information service and was able to direct several people, everyone assumed I was local. One lady said to her friend that now she had a chance to try her Spanish, as she turned towards me I said “Not with me.” As I carried my small rucksack through the village, several people passed me and said “Buen Camino”, I felt a fraud!

I learnt that the Templar castle above the village had been started by the Romans, rebuilt from the 700’s onwards and largely destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake. The flowers during the evening stroll out beyond the village were lovely, I don’t remember seeing wild cornflowers before. I could see in the low light that all the hills were extensively terraced.

Monday 18th. Up in time to have good walk through the long village, and out the other side to see the long parade of pilgrims climbing up the hill beyond, looking rather like a hill on the South Downs! I was very worried about one pilgrim, by herself, and very overloaded, she was staggering and weaving from side to side, and taking many more steps than necessary.

When I got back to the van I found that the sailing had been delayed by 3.5 hours, so I was able to continue my walk, popping into the nearby church of My lady of the Apple Tree, most unusual with two main high altars, and naves at right angles. Then walked along the Camino for some distance once again admiring flowers. And pilgrim watching.

Then set off for easy drive to Santandar, and a wait on the dockside where we chatted to a fellow Vantage van owner.

Tuesday 18th. Calm channel thank goodness; most amusingly, Bobby crossed channel the same time as us, we waved to Charlotte in Jersey, who crossed on Sunday!

Back home safely, somewhat shocked by the rushhour traffic.

Thoughts about holiday:

  • Predominant memories, wild flowers, especially poppies, storks and birds of prey.
  • We are not generally fans of Spanish and Portuguese food, eating out ( but must try more pousadas). Ice cream not special. Excellent fresh fruit and salad ingredients.
  • Tapas varied widely, poor in tourist destinations.
  • Kindness and courtesy everywhere. Children always well behaved. Even babies will sit for hours while parents chat in cafes.
  • Prefer wild west coast of Portugal, and generally inland, than the desert like region of the far South of Spain.
  • No need to use expensive motorways in Portugal if just wandering like us. Roads in Spain fantastic.

Escape to Iberia. 5

Friday 1st June. We drove east to Alvito, a small town with interesting Mudijar chapel built on the edge of the town as protection against the plague. We eventually gained admittance and were impressed by the ceiling painting, lots of musical angels including one playing an organ, while another pumped the bellows. I noticed that the pousada/castle had a reasonably priced restaurant and we had a wonderful meal, overlooking the castle courtyard. Andy was most impressed with his stuffed mushroom stuffed with quails eggs, while my chocolate pudding was the best I’d ever had, the chef said the secret ingredient was ham!

Saturday 2nd. We moved on to Beja, we first visited the castle, with views over the town. Here I asked at the tourist information about the Visigoth museum, he replied that it was closed today but after questioning said it would be open on Monday. I was surprisedat this, as most museums are closed in Europe on Mondays. When someone else’s question revealed confusion as to which day it was, we went to see for ourselves, and the museum was open. Sadly although it had lots of impressive carvings, it had nothing about the Visigoths themselves despite the fact they built the church in the 6th century.

We saw two old ladies in the black long dresses, with long headscarves we used to see. We then moved on to the Convento de Nosse Senhora da Conceicao. Inside the baroque chapel was so over the top, with gold carved wood. Andy said one of the wooden angels would not have looked out of place on a fairground ride or a temple to Shiva. Lots of the tiles in the cloisters were elaborate and very old. The convent was famous in the 17th century for a series of published letters between a nun and a French cavalry officer who had been posted to the town, however the originals have never been found.

We moved onto Serpa for the night, to a very reasonable municipal campsite, 8€, which boasted great facilities including a mountain bike washing machine!

Sunday 3rd. The morning was so cold that a child was playing near a tent wearing a padded jacket and bobble hat. Serpa boasted an 11th cent aquaduct which had a huge 17th cent wheel pump attached. I spent a morning painting the quaint Moorish quarter below the walls, I then discovered that the castle was open and was able to look down on the town, and note how tiny the houses were, many seemed to have front door and two windows, and largely back to back.

We then went on to Moura, which seemed to us to be a rather sad place. We climbed to the castle, which was only really memorable for the story of the end of the Moors’ 500 years in the town. The bridegroom of the Moorish Princess was ambushed on his way to his wedding and the Christian knights disguised themselves in his clothes. When the princess opened the gate, the knights rushed inside and Moura Saluqiyya threw herself from the tower. The door of the 16th century church had a fine doorway, and a balcony with altar on the tower, where the prisoners over the road could see the priest celebrate mass.

We drove onto to spend the night at Estrela, a village now almost surrounded by the Alqueva reservoir, right up to back gardens . When we visited here in 2014 I remember thinking how awful it must be to see your family’s olive trees vanish under the waters. There had been some effort to establish a sailing centre but the only boats were two small motor launches off the jetty, and the village shop was closed and for sale. Some swallows were collecting mud from puddles adjacent. I followed one village road some distance to where there were some rural cottages mostly for sale, and the road then disappeared into the lake, with one cottage standing alone on a tiny island.

Monday 4th. We moved onto Evora, where we parked beside the impressive aquaduct and went to explore the town. It was cold and wet, and we dressed accordingly only to be too warm when the sun shone in the afternoon. We saw the Temple of Diana and had a general wander.

Tuesday 5th. I spent a happy morning sketching round the town. I drew in the Praca de Giraido, and watched while a new street cleaner was demonstrated. You know how difficult it is to chose a new hoover, then realised that it would put all those industruous lady sweepers we saw everywhere out of a job, and no chance of another one with unemployment so high. Which might explain the popularity of the Communist party everywhere.

We are so always impressed with the individual shops in Portugal, always so well presented. And the houses so tiny, some seemed no wider than the front door, almost like the micro houses advertised in London.

I met Andy for lunch and we had a wander down to the Jardin Public, which ran along the old walls, then went back to the Igreja de Sao Joao, 1711, which is famous for its tiles. I had a pleasant time trying to sketch, good to be out the cold wind.

The Museum de Evora had some collected doorways and windows very cleverly set within the fabric of the building, as well as other interesting marble.

We moved onto the aire at Terrugem for the night, a pleasant quiet spot near the bull ring. Apparently killing the bull became illegal in Portugal in the 1920s, little sign of bull rings in use.

Wednesday 6th. Getting increasingly fed up with the weather. We drove up to an old favourite, Marvao, which is set 850m above the surrounding countryside overlooking Spain. I spent a very happy afternoon sitting in the garden below the castle sketching. The aire has a wonderful position below the town, with a walk up the old roadway, and through a stagggered gateway. The walls run all the way around the town and the walk around the castle walls rather perilous!

Thursday 7th. We moved on to the nearby town of Castillo de Vide, a charming larger town, with a Jewish quarter below the castle walls with the steepest streets I have ever seen, and a medieval settlement within the castle walls. I settled to draw the Fonte da Vila, until it came on to rain, the weather seemed to be getting worse and worse.

I visited the tiny synagogue which has been restored, and once again wished I could read Portuguese. The weather got worse as the evening wore on, we had the heating on to have a shower. Consulting the forecast rain was predicated for our destinations for the next 4 days. Such a shame to miss Batalha, Tomar and Coimbra but this was getting so depressing. Grey skies for as long as I can remember.

Friday 8th. The van was rocked by rain and strong winds during the night. We visited the local market before a shop up at Pingo Doce. Then we set off to see the local Menhirs and Dolmans on a scenic drive below the town, through fields of purple flowers and scattered cork oaks. I realise the spring flowers would not have survived this long in normal temperatures. We easily found 7m high Menhir de Meada, surrounded by wild flowers and glimpsed other antiquities as well as a pleasant aire beside the reservoir, before the rain set in again…….and we headed for Spain.

Once we arrived at Marida we had travelled 60 miles and the temperature had risen 8′! We wandered round, last visited 20 years ago but could not remember anything. We visited the Roman Theatre and Anfitheatre, impressive what remains then wandered down to the Roman Bridge, remarkable for being the longest built at 800m. We were very surprised to see lots of Roman soldiers marching towards us and watched them assemble and then march through the town!

Saturday 9th. I went into town, having a Roman festival, and settled to watch a ballet rehearsal in front of the Temple of Diana. Then wandered down to the large and mostly empty Alcazaba, where there was a Roman legionaries encampment, and I met Alan, English and now living in Spain who explained to me about his legion, Republican and BC 250. Although volunteers they were paid some expenses by the local government. He said that his legion was really depleted as everyone had to work on their vineyards and olive groves, that they had been unable to get onto during the awful spring.

Andy joined me for lunch, and we sst on a balcony overlooking the Temple of Diana area, we were amazed how many local people had dressed up in costume, right down to tiny babies in togas and even a decorated pram! Everywhere we looked so many people were in costume. We went back in the evening when there was a parade of citizens through the town .

Sunday 10th. We set off for Trujillo, another grey day but promised spring on Monday and Tuesday and summer starting with avengance on Wednesday, with 30′, which will be a shock to all. We found people having their Sunday lunch outside but with patio heaters, we could feel the heat as we walked past. We had parked beside the unused bull ring, and saw some small children acting out a fight in the impressive square. Little brother was the bull.

The impressive square had a statue of Francesco Pizarro, it started off as a statue of Cortes but when Mexico didn’t want it, it was renamed as Pizarro and given to Trujillo. There were a handsome crop of churches and mansions up the hill by the enormous castle, but the glory of the town was the central square, dominated by so many conquistador mansions, and built with their ill gotten gains. The most impressive belonged to Pizarro family and bore a grand coat of arms which included his ships but sadly the building looked about to collapse. So many stork families on so many church towers.

During the evening I managed to wipe all 10 days of diary and had to rewrite. There was also a deafening noise from some considerable distance away, a fair, and the dustbin men came at 23.40!

Monday 11th. Promised spring today but looks like it’s been postponed yet again, and grey once more! I read that the good weather in UK will continue all summer, after a blip as we get home, I’ll believe that when I see it! 16′ as I settled to sketch in the square at 11. Spring might be arriving this evening! Patio heaters still burning at lunchtime!

Escape to Iberia. 4

Thursday 24th May. After a lot of dithering we decided to stop on for the day at Camperstop Messines, it really is a lovely spot, and feels so far from anywhere yet only few miles inland from the hectic coast. In the morning I went for a stroll up a nearby hill, I was initially worried by the sound of barking dogs from a nearby farm, but as I climbed higher, could see that they were driving a herd of sheep onto a neighbouring hill. Interesting, as aĺl the sheep we had seen in Spain were being led by shepherds, which makes the biblical stories so much more understandable.

After lunch we had an amusing effort of trying to connect a sunshade to the van, as well no one was watching, then had another wander. We were amazed just how quiet the countryside seems here, often no sound at all, or at most sheep bells or birdsong. I counted 4 sorts of butterfly when I went through the wild flowers walk again, including one that was indistinguishable from the leaf it had landed on.

It’s just a shame it was so chilly for quite a bit of the day, with a cool breeze, and little better forcast.

Friday 25th. We woke up to light rain which gradually cleared as we headed for Monchique, up in the hills before the east coast. A policeman signalled for us to pull over and then decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. The EN 267 took us through lovely wooded hills, Andy said it could easily be the Amazon jungle. We stopped for shopping in Monchique, outside the supermarket were a row of washing machines.

We joined the coast road, which we had travelled in 2014, and stopped once more at the Praia do Amado, beyond Carrapateire, a lovely beach with rust coloured rocks and very popular with surfers. The entire Cote de Vicentina is an unspoilt 120km national park, which stretches north from Sagres, and the ‘corner’of Portugal.

We took a walk along the cliff path, past a newly furbished fishing cove, with purposebuilt huts for the fishermen at the top of the cliff, and the site of a 12 century Islamic seasonal fishing village on the cliff. We glimpsed some storks but they were not at their nesting site; and had a beer at the popular cliff top restaurant.

Then we sat on the beach, where I attempted to paint. After watching the sun sink into a veil of cloud from the viewpoint, we joined the other wild campers for the night. At sunset there were still at least 10 surfers in the water.

Saturday 26th. Peaceful night, and a pleasant wander right along the beach after breakfast. The waves cannot have been right first thing, as the surfers seemed slow to start. At lunch time we made our way up to the restaurant on the top of the cliff, Sitio do Forno, where we overlooked the Islamic fisherman’s village. The portions were tasty and very generous. Further on we could see and hear two storks doing a mating ritual on an isolated rock.

Then we wandered back, and moved back to the main road, then through Aljezur, where we turned along a rough road for 3 miles to get to Praia da Amoreira. The road follows the river valley past fields and salt pans, finally reaching a large but much quieter beach. I can only assume they are the wrong sort of waves for surfing, but look fine for belly boarding, in fact it is an ideal family beach.

The sandy beaches continue up the river, where small children could play even more safely, although the river does flow quite swiftly. We managed to get a spot right beside the dunes and the sea, a wonderful view, especially with the back doors open. In the evening I followed a small path up through a nature reserve full of yet more flowers. I learn that one flower I had noticed everywhere was a coastal snapdragon. Another, called a Hottentot fig, was a much hated invasive species.

Sunday 27th. We left the Praia da Amoreira in mist, although the surf must have been better behaved as the surfers were beginning to pour in. We drove on via Oxeceixe, a little white town with a useful collection of shops and cafes set on a steep hillside topped with a windmill. Then down the river valley to the mouth of the river. There had once been a small fishing village here, but it had been subsumed by a tiny resort, the single road that ran steeply straight down to the sea, still in existence.

We parked in the aire high above the beach and set off along the coast path, seeking coastal nesting storks. The track desended into sand which was difficult to walk on, but surrounded by wild flowers, and then we found the storks, first one, then a whole colony on inaccessible outcrops in the sea. We counted 7 nests with 2 or 3 chicks in each. We could see them so clearly, the chicks already quite a size! So exciting when dad bought home food! Over head large numbers of swifts.

I wandered on to a viewpoint where I could see far south towards Sagres and north towards Lisbon, rocky coast all the way. On the way back the storks were being mobbed by a solitary seagull who appeared to have his nest close by. We then walked down the hill to the beach and sand spit. Where the river met the sea it was narrow with high cliffs, which became more gentle inland.

Monday 29th. There as a strong wind blowing all night, which had hardly abaited by the morning. We set off for Cabo Sardao, the lighthouse a typical Portuguese one. Much more limited array of flowers. There we were lucky enough to see more cliff nesting storks, one with very young chicks in the nest, another such closer, with one stork on sentry duty quite close by and two more nests much further down the jagged outcrop. I was most concerned about the two babies in the bottom nest, whose parents had left them unattended. Apparently these storks are unique in not migrating but stay in such a perilous situation all year round.

We then moved on for lunch to the river shore opposite Vila Nova de Milfontes, a lovely spot if still plagued by the wind.

I was worried to see the development of plastic greenhouses that so blight parts of Andalusia. Drove north through Porto Covo, past Praia Grande towards Sines, which I had forgotten was surrounded by a power station and oil refinery. I thought how much it spoilt the view until we stopped for LPG for our cooking and fuel for the van! And want electricity to do the washing tomorrow! After a shop-up we went to a small campsite to catch up with our chores and spread our toys out for a couple of days. But sadly not successful in escaping the wind.

Tuesday- Thursday 31st May. Few quiet days on campsite, catching up with washing (lots) and seeing lots of wild flowers in the local unmade up lanes.


There are storks near here nesting on pylons, where special purpose built wire platforms have been provided for the them, one pylon is a proper block of flats with 7 nests on it. Weather better on Thursday with warm sunshine.

Escape to Iberia. 3.

Wednesday 16th May. A lazy day at the campsite, Torre de la Pina. Gales were forecast and as we walked along the sand at low tide we were sandblasted by sand whipped up from the dunes after we had walked from the rocky outcrop on which the site is situated. The stata is pushed into weird shapes in the cliff and there are rows of ‘dragons teeth’ pushing up through the sand.

The other sites may be more sheltered, often amongst trees but they do not share the excellent views we are enjoying all the time. There were very few windsurfers or kite surfers around today. We are identifying the many ships using vessalfinder.com. I could see the wind turbines in the African coast whizzing round. Apparently the extra strong easterly winds here are often caused by the air being trapped between the Riff mountains and Southern Andalusia, and called the Levante.

Thursday 17th May. Another walk along the sand, this time much more pleasant with a more gentle wind, lots of sandpipers along the sand. There were an enormous number of windmills as we drove north, then skirted round Venez and north towards Jerez. Mlany egrets on the salt marshes around El Puerto de St Marie, from where we caught the ferry to Cadiz last time. We easily found the aire, at a motor home dealer on the Av Tio Pepe.

After lunch we caught the bus easily into Jerez, and wandered around, past impressive church fronts, St Miguel.

And the cathedral, with Tio Pepe, who is everywhere in the town.

We got totally lost getting a map totally upside down and then blaming spanish maps! Jerez is supposed to be the origin of flamenco, as well as the heart of Andalusia. I’m not sure I would go that far as I got so interested and involved with Cordoba. We will see.

Friday 18th. We thought we had better start our look for sherry. We had considered visiting the Tip Pepe Bodega, the works dominate the town, but decided that it would probably be too busy and commercialised, so revisited the Sanderman Bodega which we had been to 4 years ago, and were not disappointed. We had forgotten so much about the process which was very interesting, how the wine is kept a constant temperature,and is blended as it matures in oak casks.

We all became very convivial as we sampled the sherry afterwards, a couple who were touring for a fortnight and two girls who had spent their winter teaching Spanish as part of their degree course, the girls said they had never got used to Spanish meal times, and definitely not an evening out starting at 2am and going on till dawn. They said even at uni they used to be home by 3! We stumbled out into the sunshine afterwards. I remember feeling squiffly before but somewhat worse this time!

We came upon a locals’ cafe and ate the menu of the day once it had been translated by a friendly customer! My portrait as we sat in the cafe was noticeably looser than usual but rather better. I must drink before I draw! We then wandered round the town, before a shop- up in a convenient supermarket, we noticed that the car park had been an old winery, we had heard that sherry had been suffering a downturn in popularity despite local enthusiasm.

Saturday 19th. We collected the sherry from Sandermans, fortunately I noticed it was the wrong box.

I then wound my way to the Alcazar, where I spent a happy morning exploring. Whilst climbing the stairs in the Baroque Villaviencio Palace within the walls, I suddenly realised I had been here before, and further recognised the archeological remains in the grounds, but could not remember seeing anything else! Oh dear!

The whole complex was most interesting, the small mosque dated from the 12c. It had survived as it had been converted to a chapel. Also well preserved were the Arab baths, and the 10th-15th cent. archeological site included reconstructed waterwheels, cistern and reservoirs which also served the gardens, and castle in times of siege.

There were the remains of a lovely Royal pavilion, and wonderful views over the Alcazar and beyond to the Catedral, from the battlements. There was an interesting ‘country gate’ which was difficult to defend so was very narrow, with 3 sharp bends. In the palace there was the reconstructed municipal pharmacy from the 19th century.

After a happy time sketching, I joined Andy at the Cruz Blanca, where we enjoyed the tapas and caught up with pictures of the royal wedding, toasting with sherry of course. Then we had a wander and then had tea and pastries around the corner. Somehow just did not want anything more than strawberries for tea.

Sunday 20th. We left Jerez in sunshine, and drove through quiet Sunday towns, where we saw cherios and chocolate vans drawn up outside churches, with a queue already formed. We drove round the Donanas park, and Seville, and later saw a row of storks with purpose built nests on a row of pylons.

We crossed the wide river into Portugal and were not a little out to see a demand that all ‘foreigners’ had to pull into a side road and put in their credit cards to pay an undisclosed deposit to use the motorways. We don’t want to use expensive motorways and think countries are best discovered on quiet side roads. The nearby police office said it was not responsible, but suggested if we ignore the machine and come off on the second turning we could use national roads. Not the way to welcome visitors!

We suppressed the strong urge to turn back and return to Spain and drove on through very poor roads to Tervira, when we stopped beside the river a short walk from the town. As soon as we parked a thunderstorm broke over head, and it rained for the afternoon. Mmm mmm!

However we ventured out once the rain stopped and were quite taken with the town. Lots to see, and although lots of visitors did not seem to be spoilt by tourism, and retained a lot of charm.

Monday 21st. We had a shop up first thing at the market, which fortunately was adjacent to our parking area, then wandered, into town. I enjoyed glimpsing in the haberdashers shop, which looks just like the one around Mount Road I remember from the early 60’s. I must find something to buy in there. Then into the excellent hardwear shop, which sold every size of shackle and screw ever invented. The town is most attractive, with pleasant streets and a lovely waterfront.

We walked up to the castle, which is reputed to have been developed by the Phoenicians and the Romans before the Moors built the one we climbed over. It contains a lovely little botanical garden.

In the afternoon took a ferry past the salt pans, over to the Ille de Tavira, which is a long sand spit just offshore.

On our return I wandered round sketching. I asked in the tourist office about the several large derelict buildings overshadowed by enormous chimneys, a question that was received with some discomfort. They are apparently disused tuna canning factories abandoned in the 1950s onwards. A chimney we can see from the van, adjacent to a road, has a most perilous crack, another has a resident stork. However we have been able to have our back windows open overlooking a tidal disused salt pan, that has had a heron feeding and martins darting over head. A most pleasant evening stroll around the town.

Tuesday 22nd. First job was to find somewhere to sort out the doings, as we are wild camping with lots of others on a permitted spot within such easy walking distance of the town. The local campsite that was supposed to offer services was closed, so we drove a few miles eastward to a tiny resort with a large aire that was stuffed with large campervans, ( no vans at all like ours). As far as I could see the only attraction was a nearby beach, the village had little to offer but holiday apartments. Yet some people seem to have been there a long while. We were very glad to pay our money and escape back to our view over the salt pans.

I wandered into town after admiring the view from the bridge over the Rio Gilao, I went to the Islamic Museum, housing local finds, then up the hill to the Palacio da Galeria which housed local art works, and also a UNESCO initiative showcasing the Mediterranean diet. They had chosen a number of local towns across the Mediterranean, (yes, I know Portugal does not touch the Med but apparently it counts) and was most amused to see another highlighted town was Koroni, in the Peleponesse, another town which we are very fond of!

After lunch I went to see a short Fado concert, performed in the Igreja da Misericordia, lined with blue tiles dating back to 1760 and an incredibly ornate altar piece. I was most impressed with the fado, which in today’s presentation was much lighter than the Flaminco enjoyed last week, also featured a special 12 string guitar. We ate out into the evening choosing an understated restaurant.

Wednesday 23rd. We had a good shop up at the market, fish, including freshly caught tuna off Tariva, meat and far too much fruit including strawberries, nectarines and cherries. We bought a fruit we did not recognise, which when we cut it I remembered it was a custard apple. We then drove WSW north but parallel with the busy coast through lovely countryside. When we stopped for lunch we took pictures of the rock citrus which smells so strongly everywhere, the countryside looked barren, and had possibly been cleared some time ago following a fire, but when I looked around there were 7 different wildflowers at my feet.

We passed an elderly gentleman riding a scooter, who had his walking stick hanging from his handle bars. In a primary school playground the children were wearing an overall, I remember thinking what a good idea the uniform was. I had also forgotten the charm of Portuguese chimney pots, with their varying designs. I also saw regular buildings beside the road, that turn out to belong to road maintenance men, the buildings had distances to the nearby towns picked out in tiles.

Eventually we drove into the depths of the countryside to an isolated Dutch aire, close to Sao Bartolomeu de Messines. We were the only customers but the owner reported the site was already 70% full for next winter! We could manage without hookup, with our 2 solar panels and 4 batteries but I don’t think we are going to try, and the owner expressed surprise that people could cope with being in one place for that long. I definitely need my friends and my toys, not to mention my grandchildren for that long over the winter!

An afternoon stroll showed us so many wild flowers, yet the owner said they were past their best.

Escape to Iberia. 2.

Monday 7th May. Peaceful day at Camping Solpamo. It was nice to just relax in sunshine at last during the morning, as well as catching up with jobs. During the afternoon was followed the track on the winter watercourse down to the sea, which naturally was further than it looked. It was surprising how many plants were thriving in such uncertain conditions, and that all the flowers were yellow!

We were very surprised to see a few campervans and caravans drawn up by the shore, and agreed that we did not fancy stopping there for the night, not remote enough. The track and coastal path continued and we followed it as far as a defensive Moorish lookout tower, Pirolicu Tower, which had impressive views. We had a very welcome beer at a beachside bar, and looked at a 18h century tower, Macenas Castle, that had many similarities to a martello tower at home. We then had a hard slog back up the watercourse, only enlivened by a flock of sheep following their shepherd.

Tonight might not be as peaceful with a baby of Alex’s age in the adjoining campervan. They seem to have an inordinate amount of gear in a very small campervan.

Tuesday 8th May. We did not hear the baby at all during the night, and that had me worried as well. We decided to go out in the van and explore more of the Park Natural de Cabo de Gata- Nijar. The coast road to Carboneras is extremely spectacular and sweeps down to the sea. It is a shame that the little cove was disfigured by an almost complete resort building that has been abandoned unfinished, there are so many of these, victims of the economic downturn.

After Carboneras I was surprised to see a large oil ?? Refinery. We decided to go further on to the park, so rejoined the motor way, then turned off at Campobermoso, a very poor town with large immigrant community, whom I assume work in the sea of polytunnels that surrounded the town. I knew of these tunnels, but nothing prepares you for the sight of so many and will make me re-think about food out of season!

Once in the national park again, the scenery returned to its desert like appearance, with lots of wild flowers. I was amazed at the amount of abandoned terracing, had the land once been more fertile, what had they been growing and where did they live? We came to the small seaside village of Las Negras, which I guess had once been a tiny fishing village, and now was devoted to very low key tourism. Most places were shut up, and a few tourists looked lost, apart from in the single active lively restaurant. The coastal scenery around was spectacular but the coast path was more than we could comfortably manage. We have been spoilt by the scenery around the coast of Dorset, and Devon and Cornwall.

We found an excellent supermarket in Carboneras, and solved the underground parking problem with parking in a side street. ( We are trying the dark greeny red tomatoes that are reputed to taste better – Raf tomatoes, I will report) . We then returned to Camping Solpamo, an exceeding good tiny campsite.

Wednesday 9th May. We left the lovely campsite, and drove out via Molzjar. The promenade ( think Eastbourne) seemed very pleasant after yesterday, perhaps we should have come here and eaten Italian ice cream, then wandered up to the old town above. However now we had to press on because I want to get to the Festival of the Courtyards at Cordoba, which I have had on my ‘ things to do’ list for some time.

We passed Sorbas, an interesting town set above a gorge, then past several ‘Wild West ‘re- creations, which were tourist attractions above Almeria. There was a lots of snow on the Sierra Nevada, and at the previous campsite the owner had said they were skiing there till last weekend! The mountaintops were covered in clouds. Guadix also looked interesting, with lots of troglodyte dwellings, some of which could be seen from the road.

There seemed to be loads of buttercups on the verges round Granada. I had tried to get tickets for the Alhambra, once I found you could book and print the ticket at home up to 3 months ahead. But when I tried I found all the tickets for May and June had been sold, probably to ticket touts which is why they are available locally at inflated prices. I could have booked for July! Now I know the system, I’ll book tickets well in advance as soon as we book a ferry!

Once past Granada there were green fields and vast acres of olive trees, I think this landscape suits me better than the desert one on the coast. I enjoyed the wild flowers but found the arid scenery rather depressing. We easily found the aire at Priego de Cordoba, and after a cup of tea set off to explore. It was a walk into town, past the bull ring, but through interesting streets with more normal shops, closed till later. The area of tiny streets around the castle was full of flowers and really charming. There was an impressive Balcon de Adarve, with views over the countryside. Elsewhere in the town wás an unusual fountain, with 3 layers. As we wandered back the shops had opened and the town was full of bustle.

Thursday 10th May. Quiet night at the aire and off in good time as wanted to get to the campsite promptish to get a space. It wa very grey, but lots of wild flowers by the roadside. Also lots of olive processing plants, and above the groves, the hills were thickly wooded. As we nearered Cordoba the verges were thick with broom, and the olives gave way to large cereal fields. No problem when you arrive at 10.30 here for space, mostly full by 16.00, I was immediately given a map of the Courtyards open to see.

I was told at the campsite they opened all day, I had read they opened at 17.00 during the week, and from noon at weekends. In reality they open 11-14, and 18-22.00! So it was as well we went straight into the city. I was not prepared for the large queue st the first one we tried to go in, but quickly found this was because they were tour groups, and give that one a miss, and go onto another.

The courtyards were every bit as charming as unexpected. Such a riot of colour, and in such a small space. And the rooms off looked cosy and cool. A bit salutary to think that originally the women would have been expected to live in that area and not go beyond the front door! After a disappointing tapas we came home for a rest before venturing out again.

We have been very confused about the Plaza de Colon, we keep going through it, there are all sorts of places named after it. Eventually the penny dropped (!) when we saw a tiled picture which we took to be Christopher Columbus!!

The courtyards seemed much quieter and more atmospheric during the evening. One of the courtyards had a group of singers which really added to the atmosphere. As we were preparing to go home, a local suggested we went with him so he could show us the winning balcony. It was on a modern house in a small development, it is hard to see how such a solid mass of flowers could be achieved by individual pots. He also showed us the patio of the president of the society, which we had already visited but it was good to see through the eyes of a local.

Friday 11th. Andy could not not face courtyards all day, so I wandered into town through the excellent parks and boulevards . It had been my intention to quietly sit and sketch in a peaceful courtyard, but a. I’m none too good on plants, and b. The courtyards are all far to busy to sit peacefully! I made the mistake of trying to visit the Alcazar Viejo patios, all close together. A big mistake. It was crowded out, with enormous queues, large groups. They are all wheelchair accessible, and each time a group of such arrived, or a group of nursery children, they were shepherded in, so we waited even longer. I should had given up long before; then had a lovely walk along beside the river, and much quieter patios in a another area, and past a couple of prize winning balconies.

Our evening stroll was much more pleasant, around more remote courtyards, and came across another group singing and dancing.

Saturday 12th. The night was punctuated by the cries of tawny owls who seemed to be perched in the branches just above the van. They woke us several times!

We had read that the Mezquita was open from 8.30 -9.30 and hoping that this would be quieter, as tour guides are not allowed then, we left the site at 7.45! The city was largely deserted and it was very chilly, so we were surprised to turn a corner and found a queue, at the wrong gate it transpired. It was quieter than later, and worked its usual magic.

The Mezquita is definitely my favourite building. I’m always impressed by the glimpse of the 3rd century floor from the first church on the site, for which there is documentary evidence; and most of all the mihrab, which shines with the 1,600 kg of gold cubes sent by the Emperor of Byzantium, as a gift.

I had hoped to sit drawing in the baroque cathedral in the centre during the mass which followed, but was spotted; when I made my way out later it was great to have the long aisles of columns to myself for a moment .

We found somewhere for a second breakfast, then walked through to the Roman bridge, for views over the city.

Later I tried a drawing in the courtyard outside the Mezquita but it was just too busy.

I wandered back through the streets passing a Roman temple and popping in to two churches, which happened to have weddings going on inside. Very long veils seem to be the order of the day in Spain. As in Greece, some of the guests seem to be spilling out of adjacent bars.

I then reached a square where there was Flamenco singing and dancing. I had read that a gravely voice and lots of feeling was essential, the singer had this in spadefulls. And I’m sure that the dancing was also most authentic, the female dancer especially put such feeling and verve into her dancing, throwing herself about, such accented moves.

I then caught the bus home to gather strength for the last lot of courtyards during the evening. We visited the last group of patios. I think I had managed to see about 40 of the 50 available to view! The queue outside the overall winner had to be seen to be believed. The police were in attendance to keep the road clear. The thing that made the patios charming as well as the flowers was the collections of memorabilia tastefully displayed. And the decorated wells that looked still used. Amongst the last was a really tiny patio that was incredibly cosy.

Afterwards we joined the crowds in the Plaza de Corredera where we sipped sherry till the promised flaminco concert started at 22.00. However there was an incredibly chilly breeze blowing throughout the square and it was not long before we were as cold as we had been in the morning, but with no hope of warming up. On our way back to the bus stop we glimpsed a procession, and watched an incredibly heavy statue and plinth make its unsteady way down a side street, with followers.

Sunday 13th. We came south from Codoba through lovely rolling countryside with few trees and far reaching views. The edges of the roads were bright with wild flowers, especially very deep red poppies. We aimed for the aire at Olvera, but the access road was blocked. However we managed to park and have a wander, up to the Moorish town centre at the top of the hill.

We had a drink in a tiny bar, called the Torre de Pan, then took the scenic route east, which included busy mountain passes, ( it was Sunday) up to Grazademia (which we recognised from our last visit, supposedly the wettest place in Spain) then down via incredible views to Arcos de la Frontiera.

I had very fond memories of our last visit to the town in 1998, I remember climbing up through the town in brilliant sunshine, declaring I wanted a house here. Well, I certainly did not recognise anywhere, though I am sure we came on the town from a different angle, and I did find some charming corners, but there are many places I now would prefer to live! And definitely could not cope with the ex-pats we saw round the town.

Monday 14th. We made our way south, so many wild flowers by the roadside, I have never seen so many poppies. We tried to find somewhere to stop in Medina Sidona, think we are still unnerved by previously being stuck, as we found somewhere in 1998. Our first attempt at somewhere to stop in Vejer led us to the sea near Conil de la Frontera, and was unbelievably awful, mile upon mile of seaside shacks and hovels. The beach might have been fun and full of windsurfers, but at sometime you would have to come out of the water. I’m not sure whether the high rise developments, or miles of shacks are worse.

However with a bit of effort we found somewhere in Vejer de la Frontiera, and Andy spent a very pleasant afternoon in a lovely park beside a row of windmills while I wandered the streets of the old town, and sketched.

Vejer was very pleasant indeed and the old town unspoilt. Apparently the women of the town had worn an outfit very similar to the full hijab, the Cobijado, a full long skirt and lined enveloping hood, until discouraged by Franco, but seen even up till the 1970’s. Interesting as we associate the outfit so strongly with Islam.

We then drove south towards Tarifa, and soon the Altas mountains appeared looking as close as nearby scenery. Enormous fields of wind turbines. And swarthy looking bulls with handsome families. However the countryside was green, with cork oaks, and would not have looked out of place in England. The campsites here looked better, and miles of deserted beaches, apart from the windsurfers. We parked in the run down aire at Terifa with the other hippies!

Every street in Terifa had a motor home parked on it. We did see a notice that said motor homes were not allowed to park anywhere in the municipality, and worried for a bit. The sea front was a mixture of smart, and run down port. The town has some surprisingly smart houses and shops, as well as a Moorish old town and castle. The story goes that when Guzman El Bueno was threatened with the death of his captured son unless he surrendered. He threw down his own dagger from the walls of the besieged castle, to kill the boy and refused to surrender. The only trouble is I’ve heard the identical story when visiting a Cathar castle in France, as well as one in Romania. A lot of it about.

We decided to risk a night in the car park, along with 20 others in varying states of repair. Really a shame this is not reinstated as a proper aire, that could earn the town a steady income, then perhaps tidy up all the vans scattered across the town.

Tuesday 15th. Uneventful night, we drove towards Algeciras to try to get a gòod view of Gibraltar, but there were no spots for photographs. Africa looked no further away than the Isle of Wight does from the mainland. There was a limited view from a beach, and then we tried a road to the lighthouse at Pinto de Carnero but the road drove past to an unexpected modern village.

We then retraced our steps to Terifa, and tried to find the campsite we remembered stopping with the children. We drove backwards and forwards and would still be doing it now had we not pulled into Camping Torre de la Pina ; admittedly we have road noise, but this is made up by an uninterrupted view of the sea and Africa from the open van back doors. The washing dried almost as soon as we put it out. And the receptionist listened to my description of the site we were seeking,and said it had new owners and is closed at the moment!