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Published: June 10th 2012
BLOG 8 Monday 4 June
– We left you at the campsite at Platja d’Oliva, where we overdosed on paella. We are unaware of any celebrations around here re the Jubilee – but we guess it’s all happening over there, and we’re sadly reading about all the forecasted rain.........very disappointing.
So today we thought we’d put a jiffy on but actually haven’t gone very far. There were further places up the coast to possibly check out – Oliva itself and Gandia. Both have supposed sights to see but driving through them was enough. The road was obviously quite a spot for the local pros!!!! Every half mile or so would be a gorgeous looking, VERY scantily clad girl touting for business – some with their own white plastic chair (some people couldn’t resist tooting as we passed).
We stopped to do a Carrefour shop at Gandia, then decided to head inland via map-marked scenic routes. Within just a few miles the real Spain returned – lovely Sierras with hairpin bends up, then down; valleys and masses of orange tree plantations. We stopped at a little place called La Drova for a picnic lunch then
onwards through Barx to an Aires site, listed in our book called Hort de Soriano – a few miles from Carcaixent. The book warned it was a bit tricky to find...and it was, via several K’s of single track roads, miles from anywhere and surrounded by acres of orange groves. BUT..............it was closed – not a soul in sight! The sign on the gate said it only opens on Sundays and Bank Holidays and costs 15 euros a night (our book said it was free).
So whilst we were sitting there wondering what to do and having a completive smoke, a chap appeared. With our smattering of Spanish we explained we only wanted to stay one night. So he opened the gates and here we are parked up with only the sounds of chirruping birdies as we sit in the shade (still 80+ degrees at 8pm). It’s a lovely, quite extensive tree planted area in terraces and would probably take over 100 motorhomes, though there are no facilities other than water..............thank goodness we’re the only ones here. Tuesday 5 June
- Happy Birthday Charlie, one year old today................how lovely it would be to just
be instantly home for a couple of days to cuddle the birthday boy – but a text has to suffice.
Anyway, once we were up and away we back-tracked through the orange groves and narrow roads and made our way across county back to the coast, through surprisingly big towns but none of particular merit...every inch of non-town space being planted with orange trees. We stopped for a coffee (yes, two coffees) at a bland coastal spot called Les Palmeres, then headed on – first driving through miles of paddy fields with small wading birds amongst the rice, then through a national park with a huge (l’Albefera) inland lake and on to a campsite at Platja de Pinedo – a short way from Valencia.
It’s very pleasant, good facilities and multi- European. Hardly any Spanish, LOTS of Dutch and a smattering of Poms, French and Germans......(multi-lingual chatting has been wonderful for one of us!) Having settled in and chilled out we ate our superb supermarket-bought choriozo tortilla and salad, before retiring to the pool for the afternoon. We had made the acquaintance of John and Karen shortly after moving in (an amusing and interesting
couple) and they joined us at the pool for a 3 hour chatting, swimming, reading and sun-basking session....bliss.
We returned to the van at 6pm when the pool closed (for God’s sake). Many of our fellow campers were either eating or even washing-up having already eaten....at 6pm....not very European (though Tom, who likes to eat early would approve). It’s now 8.30pm and an agreeable 77 degrees. One of us has had an interesting chat with our Dutch neighbours in English, German and French who are now eating their BBQ’d salmon steaks and the other read his paper inside the van. A bit later we enjoyed the second half of a delish chille CC and rice and then John and Karen joined us al fresco for more chats and story swapping – very pleasant Wednesday 6 June
– An awful night for some....a bird scarer gun/explosion went off throughout the night about every 6-7 minutes...................WHY? the bloody birds were asleep and not in the least bit interested in the fields of rice – that coupled with barking dogs, biting midges that somehow got through the fly-screens and 80 degrees heat did not make for restful
slumber (as I say – for ONE of us!).
We set out at about 10ish for a day in Valencia. On the advice of a neighbouring Dutch couple we decided to forego the hourly bus and got on our bikes. It was a LONG way – about 8 miles but it was all on a bespoke cycle track – firstly along the beach, then towards the city. Although mainly flat, there were inclines and it was a 33/96 degree day. Our first stop was at Valencia’s modernistic exhibition park, a vast area encompassing 5 enormous pavilions including a science museum, an oceanographic centre (aquarium, dolphins etc), an Imax multiplex cinema, Arts centre and so on. It really was a spectacular show of modern architecture......all within what used to be a river bed.
We spent some time cycling around (great to have the bikes – can cover so much distance so quickly), then we continued on towards the city still through the one-time river bed. The river has long since been diverted (it used to flood badly in the middle ages) and has now been converted into a huge swathe of green skirting the old
town and a delight to walk or cycle in – complete with a number of ancient bridges.
We came out of the park at the northernmost bridge and entered the old town via an original twin towered entrance gate. We knew immediately this city was going to be a goody. We cycled around a bit until we came to the magnificent cathedral where we tied up the bikes and explored on foot for a while including checking out the Basilica with its amazingly painted domed ceiling, then stopped for refreshments -2 shandies (no coffee) and onwards to the wonderful old covered market – the absolute hub for fresh fish, fruit and veg, all being sold in a superb building with lovely interior decor and ornate windows.
We then returned to the cathedral, did not pay to look at yet another one - but DID pay (2E each) to climb the several hundred spiral steps of the bell tower. One of us reached the top more quickly than the other...............it was a bloody long climb – the views of course were worth it.
We then headed back to the market area looking
for lunch and found what we thought was an charming back street, shady restaurant ( a Mediterranean/Caribbean fusion). We chose one Menu del Dia – Calamares/grilledfish/pudding and one paella. The calamares arrived and at first glance it was obvious they were not fresh but frozen and furthermore had been deep-fried in very old oil. We had a bite each, then called the waitress over explaining (in our best Spanish) that the food was disgusting and we were not going to eat it!. Would we like to choose something else....well yes, but now they know we’ve complained, what are they going to do to our food???. We ordered instead what turned out to be a delicious stuffed (Caribbean-style, slightly curried with chicken) courgette. Then the fish & paella arrived....................fish delicious, paella pretty foul – but there we go.
Back on the bikes, past the ornate fronted ceramics museum and back out to the park/river bed, having bought a Telegraph with Jubilee News (at vast expense) where we chilled out on the grass, in the shade and read about the celebrations for an hour or so. We then headed back into the old city to the Plaza Mayor and
its grand buildings and down to the bullring. Having the bikes is a God-send as all these are fairly far apart and the walking would be very tiring.
We had thought we would cycle down to the port/marina area...America’s Cup sailing and all that, not to mention the Valencian Grand Prix circuit....and find a lovely little taverna specialising in fish for our dinner. However we cycled the long (bloody long – about 3-4 Kms) to that area – we saw and cycled around the Grand Prix circuit (still with the stands/scaffolding etc....and tyre marks into the pits) – but that was IT. There was no ‘rather nice’ area, NO bars, restaurants or anything with any charm whatsoever.
So we carried on cycling, through some pretty dodgy areas (tourists wandering into ‘off piste’areas????) and finally found our way back to the cycle path .........only about 5 miles back to the campsite!! (Knackered?) We finally stopped in a bar for a beer and (self-fortified) coke, then did the last stretch back to the campsite – thank God.
We said our hellos to John and Karen on our way to the showers, then after
an easy salad meal we were quite prepared to just drift into oblivion. However, Karan’s ‘Yoo-hoo’ put us back in the party mood and she and John joined us in the van ‘til nearly midnight. We swapped stories of ‘iffy’ meals – theirs had been an Italian restaurant that was SEVERLY lacking. This was a real shame as they’d gone several hundred K’s out of their way to meet with friends on a cruise calling into Valencia, actually ON the friend’s 25 wedding anniversary. They’d done the Valencian tour on a sight-seeing bus and THE meal was to have been the highlight of the day........it wasn’t.
So, just before midnight, we bade goodnight....and it was ear-plugs in straight away to quieten the explosions/dogs. Thursday 7 June
- We slept well, were up late and having looked at the map, there really wasn’t anything worth stopping for , for some while. So we took fairly fast ‘A’ roads (still no motorways) and drove to Castello de la Plana -passing Sagunt which had a good looking extensive castle on the hill behind the not-so-good town. C de la P was huge/unattractive and we only stopped to
do a big supermarket shop .......(is there no part of the pig the Spaniards don’t eat?!)
On to Benicassim seafront where we had lunch in the van, then through Torre Blanca..........all this while nothing special scenerywise. We finally reached Peniscola - what a wonderful name! After a bit of shilly-shallying to find the right Aires site (and having an unfortunate altercation with a stop sign and our wing mirror) we found it but it was no more! So we back tracked down these narrow lanes and found a marvellous Aires/Camp site, with all usual facilities for only 6Euros a night including free wi-fi AND a swimming pool.
A swim and a read by the pool with a bit of Skype phoning to Claire, then supper in the van. After that we ‘did our own thing’ for a couple of hours. One of us stayed in the van to read, the other joined a jolly group of Germans on the bar terrace to drink copious cups of tea (ha ha). Friday 8 June
– Up & away in hot, hot heat and a drive into Peniscola proper, where we parked illegally by
the harbour (a printed warning under the wipers when we returned but no ticket/fine). The town, which clusters around the base of a castle, built on a rocky promontory, surrounded by the sea on three sides, is potentially charming. However it was a bit Mont St Michel/Carcassonne’y with the delightfully quaint street/steps/alleyways crammed full of restaurants and souvenir shops. We were quite surprised they weren’t selling cola in penis shaped cans!
Anyway we wandered up, in and around – admiring the castle exterior , then the church – a bit more meandering and down to the beach for a better view. The castle was the setting for the classic film El Cid. We stopped for drinkies then back to the van to continue on. Heading inland we drove through Calig, Cervera and Del Maestre, ending up at Sant Mateu where we parked up for lunch before wandering into town......mildly interesting – a square, fountain, palaces, churches and museums. Continuing along an uphill road, we got higher and higher ‘til we reached an Aires site at Morella.
In the final 20 mins or so the sky clouded over and we actually had smatterings of rain
and rumbles of thunder – but not for long. So here we are with the most wonderful view of Morella, a hilltop town crowned with a castle. There was a fantastic sunset before the light went, leaving the castle spectacularly illuminated. A game of scrabble, a delish spaghetti/meatball meal and a quiet night in. Saturday 9 June
– We parked a little nearer the town and strolled the footpath on this clear blue day with a refreshing breeze and entered through one of the six gates that pierce 1½ miles of town wall. We began by heading up to the castle though the charming Gothic town and on reaching the square with a magnificent church (closed) we sneakily joined a Spanish tour group who obviously had a prearranged visit! The alterpiece was probably one of the most ornate we’ve seen – huge, with the gold leaf covering of 90%!o(MISSING)f the statues and carvings, sparkling in the light.
Since the tour group looked pretty old, at least 60-65, we concluded they’d never make it up to the castle.....they didn’t. So arriving at the monastery, which was also the entrance to the castle at 11am,
just as it was opening, we had the place to ourselves. After wandering around the church and cloisters we headed up and round ( a bit like a helter-skelter) to the very top of this fantastic castle – of ancient heritage and built on a huge rocky tor.
Descending into the town we were enchanted by the whole feel of the place – a genuine Spanish town filled with locals going about their business and being a Saturday, filling the bars and restaurants. There were a few tourists, but all Spanish. We chose a restaurant/bar for our lunch...an OK Menu del Dia and relaxed for a couple of hours.
Then onwards...........a wonderfully scenic route which finally took us to Valderrobres – another pretty mediaeval town with castle. We’re parked up, probably highly illegally, under the battlements, just by a small passage leading to the castle top with an enormous plaza. Having settled in and chilled, we began to hear the strains of live mediaeval music – so leaving the van we went to investigate and found that it was a private birthday party who had commandeered the castle (but didn’t have exclusive rights to
the plaza). So at a discreet distance we watched the guests, every one – men/women and children dressed in genuine looking mediaeval garb. There were huge slabs of meat on sword skewers roasting on an open fire, a booze tent dispensing mead or some such, a 5 piece roaming musical band, a jester and a juggler!!.
Having had a good gawp we descended the multiple steps down to the village with its maze of narrow passages and alleyways, crossed the bridge into the newer part of town, then retraced our steps. As I write this we can still hear the jollity going on, but fairly muted – we think they’re now enjoying a mediaeval feast in the bowels of the castle. We can also hear the inevitable barking dog or two and the tinkle of goats’ bells. Our day will be completed with supper...........’Something Nice’, a read and bed. Sunday 10 June
– Having switched off lights at 11.30ish we were immediately comatose. However one of us was awoken at midnight as the band music started up! I could be saying it was really irritating as I couldn’t get back to sleep – however
I was absolutely enthralled by this wonderful music. At first I thought it must be a recording of a full-on orchestra – the music was SO good – instrumental with about every instrument you could think of .......particularly brass (trumpet/trombone/Sax etc). Each melody was an up-tempo superbly orchestrated Spanish piece. Then singing – a strong male voice and one, possibly two females. One could then tell from the verbal link between numbers that it was live. It sounded so close, that after an hour, I slipped on a sundress and crept through the small passage to see if they were on the huge patio – no, they were on the top floor castle. The music then took on a more modern tone and I finally put the ear-plugs in to the stains of ‘It’s not unusual’ and had a good nights’ sleep.
So today – well we’ve had a fair bit of coast-hugging and we’ve now had a lovely taste of inland ‘real Spain’ – so what next? What is our route back through France going to be? So we agreed that we weren’t yet ready to leave the Spanish coast as it’ll be a while before
we hit the French coast and that’ll all be Atlantic. Therefore the decision was to do a big motorway chunk to a good way north of Barcelona (we were there the year before last).
So we set out across country to Gandesa, then Mora d’Ebre. The scenery was amongst the most stunning we have seen in Spain – wonderful weird shaped mountains, green valleys etc. Then onwards to Reus near Barcelona where we took (and paid for) a motorway skirting Vilafanca, Barcelona and Gerona. Since motorway driving is monotonous we listened to some bop – Billy Connolly’s Route 66 (thanks to Lorna and Ian) and The Piccadilly Bullfrogs’ Hoppers, Boppers & Rockers ( thanks to Trundle & Angie Boothroyd).
It was a long way – 240 odd miles with a stop for lunch, which is a long way for us. We finally arrived at our chosen destination, a campsite at L’Escala. I suppose we knew from the start that it was not going to be for us..........a heaving town, full of bars/restaurants and oversized women in vest tops oozing flesh and bosoms! However we pulled up at the reception (traffic & kids everywhere) and
were given the site map so’s we could walk around and choose our pitch. The major disappointment was that the book said ‘ON the beach’ and in reality, the beach was either a 15 min walk that way or a clamber down a vertical cliff the other way. We finally decided on pitch number 152 and returned to reception with the number ....’sorry that one’s taken’. FUCK IT – we’re not staying here.
So after consulting our book, we drove another 9 miles to a campsite at Sant Pere Pescador – a German run site and ON the beach, very pleasant and everything where and how it should be – Ja Wohl. Having settled in, we got straight on the Internet as the payable log-on is broken, but will be mended tomorrow. First a quick check of emails, then a Facebook......and whilst checking Facebook we got an ‘instant message’.........Hello Mum – is that you? To cut a long story short, we had a wonderful impromptu Skype conversation with Tom, in Turkmenistan. Then all this bloody typing (I hope people like reading it) and next will be supper. Adios! And surely that must be another completed blog.
Since Platja de Oliva: – Oliva; Gandia; La Drova; Barx; Carcaixent; Hort de Soriano; Alzira; Algemesi; Sueca; Les Palmeres; l’Albufera; Platja de Pinedo; Valencia; Sagunt castle top of hill; Castello de la Plana huge, did shop; Benicassim boring /bland seafront – picnic lunch; Torre Blanca; Peniscola; Calig; Cervera; Del Maestre; Sant Mateu; Morella; Valderrobres; Gandesa; Mora d’Ebre; Reus; motorway via Villafanca; Barcelona; Gerona; L’Escala; Sant Pere Pescador;
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