Tag Archives: history

Barcelona & Gaudi

When we spent a few days in Barcelona 5 years ago, at the end of our Camino Portugues, we did quite a few touristy things including visiting Montserrat, La Rambla & the Cathedral, the beach near where we were staying and Gaudi’s Casa Battlo. We also ate a lot of tapas.  This time, at the end of 5 weeks of travelling, we’ve seen about as much touristy stuff as we can take, but there were gaps in our Gaudi experience so we concentrated on filling them a bit.

After sorting out our rental car extension at the Avis counter at BCN airport, we headed straight to Park Guell as it was on the way to our campground. Greg has been using a very handy app and website called Parkopedia to find us parking in cities, towns and at tourist places where getting a park can be tricky, difficult or (often!) impossible. Everywhere around Park Guell  was crowded, partly because it’s a residential area, but also because the day we went was a public holiday. So we headed to a parking station a few blocks away. Easy. We took our lunch to the park and joined lots of other people out and about enjoying the weather and the park. When Gaudi designed it right at the beginning of the 20th Century, the area was located outside of Barcelona. A wealthy count purchased a tree-covered hillside and commissioned Gaudi to design up to 60 houses for wealthy people in landscaped grounds, but it was a commercial flop and abandoned in 1914. It was purchased by the city in 1922 for use as a public park. Gaudi spent most of the last 20 years of his life in a house in the park which is now used as a Gaudi museum of memorabilia and some of his furniture from his home and others he designed.

The following day, Friday, we visited Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia The Church of the Holy Family. Wow, what an incredible place! Nothing I write could even begin to describe it, but Greg’s photos will probably give some idea. However I will just say that if you visit Barcelona and only see one thing, it should be this place. It is absolutely awesome, in the true sense of that oft-misused word.

We’ve spent the last few days camping at Camping Barcelona, which is about 35kms north of the city. It’s easily the best campground we’ve stayed at in Spain. Lovely sites, excellent facilities, late check-out – we can stay until 8pm on the day we leave. The campground offers a regular, frequent bus service into Mataro the nearest town, plus a bus to Barcelona and will organise tours to popular tourist places including La Sagrada Familia and Montserrat. They have a bar, restaurant, mini-market,  nice looking swimming pool and give discounts for stays of longer than 5 days. Wifi is included in the camping fee and it’s good and fast. We paid a bit extra for power. It’s been lovely staying here.

Plenty of sign of Catalan agitation at Spain
Park Guell Plaza
Looking down to Barcelona from Park Guell
Park Guell walkway
la Sagrada Familia showing the old Nativity gate versus the newer extension
la Sagrada Familia Glory gate, a long way from completion, it started in 2002
la Sagrada Familia building new towers
la Sagrada Familia the top of the Passion gate
la Sagrada Familia stained glass windows on the western side
la Sagrada Familia, the stained glass in the afternoon throwing colours throughout the church
la Sagrada Familia eastern stained glass
la Sagrada Familia
la Sagrada Familia Nativity gate
When the cheap hotel room doesn’t have enough chairs, table, stove, pressure cooker and more, you just bring them instead



This week has just zapped by, in a whirl of places and interesting things and our last few days in Spain …. and not enough blog updates. It’s now Friday evening and we fly out of Barcelona on Sunday, arriving home on Tuesday.

After our  quick visit to Toledo, we skirted around Madrid, only stopping to visit the Costco in an outer suburb to get fuel before heading further north to Segovia. We stayed at a lovely Airbnb apartment there for 2 nights. The main drawcard at Segovia is an amazing stretch of Roman Aqueduct right at the edge of the old town. And then there’s the Alcazar Fortress, which was apparently used by Walt Disney as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland in California. AND THEN there are the myths that the city was founded by Hercules or the son of Noah. Hmm .. let’s forget about the myths and talk about that Aqueduct and the Alcarzar. And lunch. Lunch was very good.

El Acueducto the Roman Aqueduct was built in the 1st century and no mortar was used in its original construction. I’ll just repeat that because it’s very impressive … no mortar was used in the 894 metre long series of 163 arches built with over 20,000 granite blocks. At its highest point at the entrance to Plaze del Azoguejo, it stands at 28 metres high. How did these ancient builders and engineers do it ??

The aqueduct was part of a complex system of underground canals and aqueducts that brought water to the city from the mountains 15+kms away. It was restored in the 1990s.

While we were reading up in our Lonely Planet Guide about the aqueduct, we learnt that Segovia is also well known for its roast lamb and roast suckling pig. We tend not to eat out much when we travel because I like to cook like the locals cook, but we do like a good roast, so we found a restaurant which specialied in horno de asar roasts and had a lovely lunch: Entree – ‘grandma’s soup’ and butter bean stew, Main – cochinillo asado roast pork with salad, Dessert – arroz con leche creamed rice for Greg and creme caramel for me.  Plus wine.

After that, we needed a big walk, so we headed to the Alcazar. Up a few hills, took a wrong turn somewhere, got back on course and eventually got to the top of the old part of town with the Alcazar on the edge. It looked … unimpressive … from the main entrance. A boxy fortress, a couple of turrets that were a bit reminiscent of Rapunzel and other fairytale princesses, but not really what we’d expected. We didn’t go inside because it all burnt down in the mid-19th century and what is now there seems to be an over-the-top reconstruction. We did find that Sleeping Beauty-like castle we were expecting when we drove to a viewpoint on the outskirts of town. Our Airbnb host has a lovely photo of it in snow, plus a few more on the Airbnb listing for his place – here.

We left Segovia on Wednesday morning and put in a long day’s drive towards Barcelona. We stayed at Lleida at an Ibis Budget hotel and then headed to BCN on Thursday. It was Spain’s National Day, October 12th and everything was closed, but we found bread at a servo on the motorway and went straight to the Avis counter at BCN to extend our rental car hire for a couple of days. We’re staying at a very good campground about 30kms north of the city.

the Aqueduct in Segovia
Alcazar Fortress, the best view
Segovia main street
Suckling Pig
Suckling Pig
Pork crackling
creme caramel
Arroz con Leche
the wood oven where all the lamb and pig is cooked


A Tale of Two Churches – Cordoba

We left our lovely Airbnb house in Seville on Saturday morning and headed north to Cordoba. I had a chance conversation with a friend on Facebook and discovered that there are 2 Costco stores in Spain, one in Seville and one in Madrid, and I’d brought my Costco member’s card! So we dropped into the Seville store on our way out of town. It’s amazing how similar these stores are worldwide, but with local differences of course – this one had a lot more fresh, frozen and tinned seafood than the ADL one, but the layout was almost identical and the carpark had Costco’s usual very generous parking spaces. The only thing we bought there was hot chips to have with our bread rolls for lunch. My latest favourite condiment is sherry vinegar and it went very well with those chippies.

And then on to Cordoba, to see the Mezquita, which is regarded as one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings, and one of the best things we’ve seen on this trip. It is beautiful, spacious and serene, with a Patio de los Naranjos on one side, like Seville Cathedral. The site of the Mezquita has had a church on it since 600AD, originally a small Visigothic temple, then a mosque which was enlarged several times, and then in the 16th Century a Gothic/Renaissance-style cathedral was built inside the existing Mezquita. Sounds like a crazy cacophony of styles, but in reality it all works beautifully.

One of the highlights is the mihrab, the mosque’s prayer niche  which faces Mecca. It’s not particularly large, especially not in comparison with the overall size of the whole space, but it is beautifully and richly decorated and a focal point of the Mezquita. I had to go back for a second look after we’d seen everything else.

We walked through some of Cordoba’s side streets in the late afternoon. Bars and restaurants were getting ready for their evening customers, people had started coming back outside after their siesta and tourists cooled their feet in a series of ponds that went along a path by the city wall. We pointed the car in the direction of Toledo and found a municipal campground near a large lake at Villaviciosa and spent the night there.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we realised the GPS was taking us to Toledo in Portugal, not Toledo in Spain! So we set it to the right one and headed north.

the very narrow streets of Cordoba with a garbage truck driving through
inside the Mezquita
inside the Mezquita
inside the Mezquita, also the cover picture on the Spain Lonely Planet
inside the Mezquita
the Villaviciosa campground was three quarters full of permanent sites. This is common in Spain (and Italy). People build structures around their caravans
Villaviciosa campground permanent site
Villaviciosa campground looking down the row of permanent sites

A Tale of Two Churches – Seville

It was the best of times, it was …. oops, wrong cities, wrong centuries.

On Friday we visited the amazing Seville Cathedral, then on Saturday we visited the even more incredible Mezquita – the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba. Seville Cathedral is huge, third largest Christian church in the world, the largest cathedral (because the other 2 are not the seats of bishops) and the largest Gothic church. Like many of Spain’s churches, the site was originally a mosque, and the mosque’s minaret, El Giradillo, still stands beside it. The rest of the original mosque was knocked down in the early 15th century, and when the Cathedral was completed 100 years later, it was the largest church in the world by volume. Some sources claim that it still is.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus is a major point of interest. It’s very impressive for its size and there has been a long-standing debate over whether the remains are actually Columbus’ (DNA says they are). Also impressive is the cathedral’s collection of art and treasure, including a very decorative crown which contains the second-largest pearl in the world, and is used during the Feast of the Assumption. Another surviving remnant of the original 12th Century mosque is the Patio de los Naranjos Oranges, a lovely cool open area with a large fountain in the centre.

We walked a few blocks to the Plaza de Espana and the adjoining Parque de Maria Luisa. The Plaza was built for the 1929 Exposicion Iberoamericana and has fountains, mini-canals with boats for hire and a huge curved brick & tile building showcasing Seville tilework. It was a hot day and we opted to sit under a huge Australian Grevillea Robusta in the park rather than walk around the Plaza. Then we headed back to the car via the river. We’re listening to the audiobook of Ken Follet’s Column of Fire, Part 3 of his Kingsbridge series, and the Rio Guadalquiver is mentioned several times as an important asset to Seville because ships were the main form of transport to and from the city. It has silted up over the centuries, but is still an impressive body of water.

On the way back to our Airbnb, we drove a slightly different way and came to a deserted suburb. There were tram tracks with a big bridge going to who knows where, parking area, roads, street lights … everything except houses. We’ve been through another Spanish ghost town where there were houses, some finished and empty, others never finished, but this suburb with everything but the houses was really different.

We’re heading north now, towards Madrid andSegovia, and will then head west back to Barcelona. This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll write about Cordoba later.

Seville Catheral
Christopher Columbus Tomb
Seville Cathedral
Old graffiti (from at least 1884) in Seville Catheral
Plaza de Espana Seville
Walking to Plaza de Espana we knew we were getting close, we could see the tour buses lined up
Abandoned suburb with parking for the tram station
A bridge for the tram line
New footpaths and trees overgrown with weeds






Tangier, Morocco

We spent 2 nights at a Casa Rural just out of Tarifa.  The literal transalation for Casa Rural is Country House but it means a hotel or accommodation. We’ve stayed at a few and have always enjoyed them. Sometimes it’s up-market accommodation in a restored old building or farmhouse, this one was self-contained cabins at the back of the main farmhouse, with great views over the nearby mountains, the sea and our host’s amazing home orchard.

Tarifa is at exactly 36 degrees north, it’s the southernmost point of Spain and Continental Europe and it’s where the Mediterranean and Atlantic Seas meet. It’s one of the world’s most popular destinations for wind sports including windsurfing and kite surfing, also whale watching and just ‘going to the beach’, which goes for several miles around the bay. We did go to the town beach and it looked good with nice sand. Tarifa has the ferry terminal for ferries going to Tangier in Morocco, which was our main reason for staying there.

We did a day trip to Tangier yesterday. The novelty of visiting another country and being back home in time for dinner just never gets old for us, and this time we actually visited another continent! Caught the 9am ferry from Tarifa and arrived in Tangier at about 9am because even though the 2 places are just about on the same longitude, Spain keeps to the Western European timezone which is just geographically wrong. Current sunrise in Spain is close to 8:30am! Daylight saving finishes here at the end of this month.

So, the ferry ride was all good, not too rough, took about 35 minutes because we left a bit late because ….. Spain. Somehow Spanish time seems a lot more elastic than time everywhere else in the world. After some online research, we knew that we had to get our passports stamped by Moroccan immigration on the ferry. If it’s a full ferry, this can be a lengthy procedure and MUST be done prior to disembarking. So we made sure we were among the first to board and followed those in the know straight to the immigration desk on board. Got our passports stamped again – we’re running out of room in them! – and settled in for the ride. Got off in Tangier and set about finding our way out of the terminal. Greg had read online about how awful the taxi drivers and touts  can be at the Tangier ferry terminal, but compared with some of their Southern African counterparts, these guys weren’t even trying! We’re well practised in the art of saying ‘no’.

Tangier is a large city, with a large bustling new (ie, less than 100 years old) area and the old historic Medina (old walled city in Arabic). It’s the second-most important Moroccan city after Casablanca. Most people we interacted with spoke Berber, French and some English. We started off in the modern part with a visit to the supermarket for water, flatbreads and a few other things, then a walk along one of the main streets and then coffee, juice and a pastry at McDonalds, mainly because … clean toilets. Then we walked to the Medina which was absolutely alive with activity and people and stalls and traffic. I was interested to see greengrocers unpacking boxes of cherimoya custard apples which had come from Almuñécar, where we’d camped a few days ago, just after we left Granada. I now realise that a lot of the orchards we could see from our campsite were growing custard apples.

We wandered down streets and lanes which got progressively narrower, until we got to the market, where there were rows of stalls all selling similar items – a row of dried fruits and nuts; a row of olives and the most beautiful preserved lemons (note to self: learn how the Moroccans do it!); a row of bags of herbs and piles of colourful spices and then to the butchers and fishmongers. We found an old man selling pieces of hot potato omelete from a huge flat pan in a lane and he was doing a very brisk trade at about 10c/piece. A local shopkeeper was very keen to buy a piece for us, and we were even more keen for him not do to that and to just buy our own, knowing there would be an expectation that we visit his shop … and you can guess the rest of that scenario. So we bought our own pieces which were served on pieces of butcher’s paper. That didn’t stop the shopkeeper from trying very hard to get us into his shop but like I said, we’re good at saying ‘no’. We kept on walking higher to the Kazbah (citadel), then back down through lanes selling haberdashery, clothing and I’ve forgotten what else.

Lunch was at a restaurant back in the new part of town. Chicken pastilla and a milkshake for Greg, chicken tagine with mint tea for me, and we shared a chocolate & banana crepe for dessert. That chicken pastilla has set a new high in chicken pies for Greg and now he wants all future pies to be decoratively dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon! The food was delicious and all up it cost around AUD 22. We walked a bit more and found some shade under some eucalyptus trees in a park, then went to the beach, walked some more and got back to terminal to catch the almost-empty 6pm ferry.

It was a good day, we’re glad we did it and as Greg pointed out when we watched a car being driven onto the ferry ….  we have this crazy long-term plan of shipping the Landcruiser ute (which is currently sitting in our back yard) to Southern Africa and driving it to Northen Africa …. one day it might be us driving our car onto that ferry!

Leaving Tarifa on the Ferry
The pilot leaving the Ferry. The pilot was on board for a tricky maneuver that was only about 100m long
All safe with Australian life rafts on the ferry. The Tarifa Jet is a fast catamaran built by Incat in Tasmania
Arriving at Tangiers port – the Medina is to the right, the new part of town is to the left
Herb sellers in the Medina
in the narrow alleys in the Medina
So many olives in the Medina, and those lemons were all preserved!
Medina with meat sellers
Sharpening a knife with a pedal powered grinding wheel near the butchers in the Medina
narrow alley high in the Medina
working our way down the Medina
all sorts of shops in the Medina
Mint tea
Chicken pastilla with icing sugar!
Tangine with preserved lemons and olives hiding somewhere under all those chippies!
Resting in a park full of Eucalyptus trees
The beach at Tangiers
on the beach at Tangiers


Better write about our day in Gibraltar yesterday before we move onto the Next Thing, which is a day trip by ferry from Tarifa to Morocco tomorrow!

Lovely sunny day & we had great views of both The Rock and Africa. We walked the 2+kms from our apartment to the border, where border control on both sides barely even glanced at our passports. On the way back, Greg didn’t even get his out of his bag as there was no-one at Passport Control. Driving into Gibraltar is a much more tedious process, if the long line of cars waiting at the border was any indication. The runway at Gibraltar Airport intersects the road, so we got to tick off another ‘bucket list item’ – walking across a runway. When a plane lands or takes off, the road is closed. Gibraltar is also the first British Overseas Territory we’ve visited.

If you want to know about the history, you can start here. I’ll just add a couple fun facts in honour of the 50th Anniversary of the Gibraltar Sovereignty referendum which was held in 1967 … the vote to remain under British sovereignty was an overwhelming 12138 for, 44 against and 55 invalid. Franco was so pissed off that he closed the border in 1969, and it was not fully reopened until 1985, 10 years after his death.

So, Gibraltar was interesting but kinda weird, like going back to 1970s or ’80s England in a time machine. Main Street reminded me of the High Streets I used to visit when I spent a few months in London in 1984, and not only because it was full of English people! The shops had a quaint old-fashioned feel about them, althought I do remember more off-licences in the average High Street than there were in Main Street. Being a little part of the UK, all prices are in GB pounds, although euros are readily accepted at most, possibly all, places, probably at a very disadvantageous exchange rate. Street  and public signs are all in English and there are old-style British phone boxes & letter boxes.  One thing I really liked was that many pedestrian crossings had ‘look left’ or ‘look right’ painted on the edges to remind people before they step out. I think every country in the world should do this.

The enormous P&O ship Azura was in port and had disgorged nearly 5000 people for the day – 3500 passengers plus crew. It has the Union Jack painted on its bow, and I guess most, if not all, passengers were British.  We visited the supermarket nearest the port and found that there was no Cadbury’s chocolate on the shelves! Oh, the disappointment! We did find both fresh and canned rhubarb which we didn’t buy, plus Bakewell tarts and English pork sausages which we did buy. Last night’s dinner was a fry-up of sausages, potatoes and eggs.

We sat in the main town square for a while and I thought it might be fun to count how many people were wandering around wearing socks with sandals, but to my complete surprise, I only counted 6 people the whole day. Maybe the fashion police wouldn’t let anyone disembark if they were wearing socks with their sandals.

The big drawcard for most people, us included, is the Top of The Rock. We thought we’d walk up the Mediterranean Steps, which would get us somewhere near the top, then take the cable car back down. Information about how to actually get to the Steps was not plentiful, so we decided to get the cable car up and maybe walk down the Steps if we could figure it out. Return tickets for the cable car were 2 euros more than a one-way trip, so we got the return tix, just in case. Good thing we did, as it turns out. We had to wait a long while in the queue for the trip up, and while we were waiting I had an allergic reaction to something. Sore, streaming eyes, runny nose, felt awful. Which is all a rather dramatic way to say ‘I got hayfever’, but I’ve never had it before and it was horrible. I guess I’ll be adding an antihistamine to my first aid kit. It started resolving as soon as we walked back into Spain and I feel fine today.

I just wanted to sit somewhere out of the wind and away from the apes, so headed for the snack bar area on the top floor of the cable car building. Great views of the northern peak of the rock and over to Africa. Greg went to find those Mediterranean Steps and walked down them for  few flights, but we had arranged that he would come back and meet me where he’d left me, then we took the cable car back down. The P&O ship had left and was replaced by 2 smaller cruise ships. None in port today, because nothing much is open in Gibraltar (or Spain for that matter) today, Sunday.

We were really lucky with the weather yesterday – clear skies, warm but not too hot. Today it was very overcast and The Rock was shrouded in cloud when we left La Linea.

Crossing the airport runway to get into Gibraltar
We must be in Gibraltar
Main Street Gibraltar

The cable car
The Southern part of the rock
Africa across the Mediterranean
Down the Mediterranean steps
Our apartment in La Linea from Gibraltar







After our epic morning at Alhambra, we headed back to the apartment, walked up to one of the nearby supermarkets to get some stuff & noticed a little stall selling churros & coffee just around the corner from us. It wasn’t open until later, so we went back intending to ‘eat dessert first’, but the serve of churros & chocolate was so huge that it ended up being dinner. These churros were cooked differently from others we’ve had, in that a continuous spiral of batter was poured into the deep fryer until the entire surface was full, then when it was cooked it was chopped into lengths of about 15cm. Every other churro we’ve had has been piped, usually through a star-shaped nozzle, and cooked individually. However they are cooked, though, they are all delicious!

Yesterday morning we packed up to leave Granada, met our Airbnb host at the apartment, then drove into the city centre to have a bit more of a look. Greg picked out a parking station not far from the cathedral and the food market but we ended up on one of those city streets that are only accessible to buses, taxis and cars with special permission between 0730 – 2230 … aargghh! So we did a few quick right turns to get away from there and found another parking station which was a bit further away, but we got to walk along more of the streets in town. We found the cathedral but didn’t go inside, then the food market which was … erm … unimpressive after Valencia’s gorgeous Central Market. At least half the stalls were closed, and most of the ones that were open were selling seafood which looked great but not what we wanted to buy. I did have a nice glass of wine which included some tapas – prawns and some kind of squid thing on bread. Cost about $2. Bargain.

Then we headed to the streets below the Alhambra, to see what it looked like perched up there on its hill. We found a tapas bar that seemed to be aimed at locals rather than tourists, wandered in and had lunch … tortilla espanol, patatas a lo pobre (poor man’s potatoes), croquettes, artichokes with anchovies. And then, just in case we hadn’t had enough potatoes, the waiter brought us a plate of chips, on the house. Plus orange juice for Greg and a fino jerez sherry for me. I’ve gotta say, that sherry didn’t taste anything like the cream sherry my nanna used to consume by the flagon. I might need to do some more ‘research’ into Spanish sherry.

Campgrounds are not all that common on the Costa del Sol, but there seems to be an over-abundance of apartments and resorts. It’s a bit early, ie hot, in the season for the major influx of tourists, most of whom come during the Northern Hemisphere winter to get away from whichever cold country they live in, for weeks or months. Greg did a Google search and found Camping Tropical at Almuñécar, on the coast about 80kms south of Granada, so we just had a short drive to get to it. Run by a German guy, it is one of the best campgrounds we’ve stayed at. As Greg pointed out – the 2 places we’ve liked the best have both been run by non-Spanish people. Anyway, this one had some extra little bonuses like a really good washing up area with scourers and dishwashing liquid, and nicely decorated bathrooms with toilet seats, toilet paper and hand towels. Most of the trees in the grounds were fruit and nut trees; I picked a pomegranate and a couple of avocadoes this morning.

And now we’re in La Linea de la Conception, which is the town on the Spanish border with Gibraltar. We can see The Rock from the front of the building. We’re spending a couple of nights in this Airbnb and will walk across to Gibraltar tomorrow. Wow, that’s another of those mythical places I never imagined I’d ever see in my lifetime.


Parking in Granada, first you drive into the car lift and take the car down 1 level
A mechanics opposite our apartment. You took a ramp up to the 3rd floor where the mechanics workshop was located
Tapas and wine at the Central Market in Granada
Tapas and fino jerez
a selection of Tapas
Fruit trees outside the Cathedral in Granada
Capella Real, the royal chapel in Granada
The road that runs downhill from La Alhambra
Camped at Camping Tropical at Almuñécar
2,000 year old roman aqueduct
The less than desirable stoney beach at Almuñécar
The view of the rock from outside the apartment in La Línea de la Concepción



Granada, Andalucia

We lobbed into town on Tuesday afternoon, met our Airbnb host, settled into the apartment and then started to figure out what to do while we’re here. Here’s where we stayed … it’s lovely!

Granada’s top tourist attraction is La Alhambra, whose red fortress towers sit on a hill above the town, with the mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind them. Indeed, it is regarded as Spain’s most beautiful monument and one of the best examples of Islamic architecture and art anywhere in the world. There are many millions of column inches (plus the online equivalent) written about this beautiful place, so I don’t need to add anything about the history or descriptions of the buildings and gardens – you can start reading about it here. 

Getting tickets to Alhambra ranges from ‘not easy’ to ‘impossible’, depending on what you read and when you want to go. Greg had a look at the official website and discovered that the next available tickets are for November 1st. Hmm. So a bit more research yielded the information that a limited number of tickets are available ‘at the door’, on the day, but you have to be very keen and very early. Okay, we can do that, even though neither of us are natural early risers.

We got up at 5.45am, Greg programmed the GPS to take us to the parking area near the Alhambra ticket area and off we went. It still felt like the middle of the night because current sunrise here is just after 8am. The GPS took us through the middle of the city, down streets that are only accessible to buses and taxis between 0730 – 2230, and down many one-way streets. We only went the wrong way down one street, as far as we know! Eek! Reached the parking area which was already filling up. Found the queues, one for cash payments and one for credit card payments and divided our responsibilities … I joined the cash queue, Greg joined the credit card queue. The plan was that we would keep in touch via SMS and hopefully one of us would get lucky. The woman at the head of my queue had got there at 3am! As I said to her: ‘Respect!’

I’d brought my e-reader and settled in for a nice long read. No one around me spoke English, so I was glad to have something to help pass the time. Greg got talking to an American woman from Houston who had researched everything very well. She passed on lots of helpful information, in addition to telling him about her experiences with Hurricane Irma. Ticket office opened just after 8am, the queue started moving and after only a few minutes an announcement came over the loudspeakers that all the daytime tix for the star attraction, the Nazarine Palace, had sold out. But general tickets and night time tickets for the palace were still available, although the night tix also sold out fast. At some point, the queue that Greg was in just completely stopped, then started again, then stopped as all tickets had sold out.

But I kept on waiting in the queue, and was about 10 from the front when they announced that there was a final 30 general admission tickets available. I think all of us so close to the front did a head count … and probably sent up a little message to whoever they believe in as well! I was finally let into the ticket sales area, joined the wrong queue and had to join another one, but GOT TICKETS!! Yay! We also paid for audiovisual guides in English on Android phones (like an ipod, but I had to make it technically accurate because Mr Adventure might read this) and spent the next 4 or 5 hours walking around this incredible place. The gardens are magnificent, the use of water (in ponds, pools, fountains and water channels) was brilliant and the architecture was amazing. Enough superlatives, I’ll let Greg’s photos tell the rest of the story.

I should just add for anyone planning on visiting Alhambra .. it is possible to see some of the public parts of the complex for free, by entering through the Puerte de Justica, but I was really happy that we were able to get tickets and see the palaces, Generalife and Alcazaba, the original citadel.

The queue for tickets at 7am in the dark
One of the gardens in Generalife
Generalife pomegranates

part of the very detailed plaster with arabic phrases
the water staircase. The water flows down both sides of the staircase
Looking down to Granada from La Alhambra
One of the aquaducts that used to provide water to La Alhambra
The roof with holes providing lighting in the Muslim bathhouse
Wine gate


Tarragona, Catalonia

We went to a supermarket just before we left Andorra. There were more cigarettes there than I’ve ever seen before! Some brands had special offers – buy 3 cartons, get a free bottle of booze, or free lighters. And there was even one brand that was sold by the bucket – approx 198 cigs in it. Yuck! I guess the prices were good, I have no idea how much a packet of cigs is at home. Anyway, we got some food and a tetrapak of wine ‘cos we are complete philistines (and they fit in our fridge better than glass wine bottles) and headed south towards Valencia.

One of the towns along the way is Tarragona, which is on the coast about 100km south of Barcelona. I consulted our Lonely Planet guide and it sounded like we should stop there and have a look. Originally founded by the Romans in 200-something BC, it is Spain’s second-most important Roman site. In 27BC Augustus made it the capital of his new Tarraconesis province, which is now roughly all of modern Spain. In its heyday, it had a population of over 200,000. Current population is around 132,000. It was abandoned in AD714 when the Muslims arrived, then reborn as the seat of a Christian archbishopric in the 11th Century.

We parked just outside the old city walls, which now have apartments built into and on top of them. Walked through the old town to the cathedral, whose spire is the highest point of the town and can be seen for miles. Along the way, there were posters everywhere advertising the Festival of Santa Tecla Saint Thecla (a saint of the early Christian Church and reported follower of Paul the Apostle), which was happening while we were there. And we found out after a bit more research that one of the highlights of the festival – the human tower display – was happening the next day, Saturday. More on that later.

There are some excellent historical Roman sites in Tarragona – the amphitheatre near the beach, which also contains the remains of a couple of 6th and 12th century churches. The original stone from the amphitheatre was used to build the nearby port, so what is now there is a partial reconstruction. Right near one part of the city walls is the ruins of the Roman circus,  the ancient chariot racetrack. If you follow the modern road up to the right of the circus,  you can see the apartments built above the city wall.

We stayed at a campground on the beach just north of the town. First one we tried had shut for the season, and the one we stayed at seemed to be closing the morning we left. Everyone around us was packing up their caravans, chucking out huge rolls of lino, rolling up fake grass, putting fridges and freezers into storage and trying to cram months of accumulated crap into either their caravans or the huge dumpsters that were already overflowing.

Drove back into town just before midday and parked at a parking station so we could go to the Plaza de la Font to watch the human tower building. The Municipal building is at one end of the square, and it had a stage set up in front of it. When we got there, there was a group of people in costume reciting pieces of poetry, with the occasional display of fireworks and loud bangs. We had no idea what was going on, but clapped along with everyone else. There was a very enthusiastic rendition of what we thought was the Catalonian anthem (Catalonia is currently trying to gain independence from the rest of Spain, there are many pro-Catalonia posters everywhere). And then the 4 teams of tower-builders marched into the square, each heralded by its own band. The teams took turns to build towers of up to 9 people high, in various configurations ranging from 3 people on each level, to just one person supporting another one on his or her shoulders, going up and up … all with little kids wearing helmets at the very top. For anyone who has a child who is a climber, send ’em to Human Tower Building classes at Tarragona. They will either love it, or decide they’re not so keen on climbing after all.

We spent a few hours at the square, watching the poetry recital and then the tower building, and one thing that really struck me was how amiable the crowd was. Everyone was happy, there was no tension or crying kids or irritable people, it all just flowed beautifully. Over the course of our time there, we ended up getting closer to the front as the crowd ebbed and flowed. It was just one of those lucky occasions of us being in the right place at the right time.

Tax free Andorra
Many yes posters for the “illegal” Catalonia independence referendum
Outside the Tarragona Cathedral
More independence banners
Roman Circus
Roman Amphitheatre
The beach with all the Caravan parks north of Tarragona
Camped north of Tarragona

The tower climbers matching into the square
One of the Human Towers
They built the tower with human scaffolding then they climbed down leaving these balanced all alone
We sometimes don’t have much room so the car bonnet does well for drying dishes (don’t tell Avis!)