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Published: October 10th 2021
Crossing over the Spanish border at Ceuta (which was still in Africa) was surprisingly easy, given the likelihood of drug trafficking. We finally reached Ceuta itself on a Spanish bus for the last 7km, and with clocks going forward an hour, we only had around a 2 hour wait for a ferry back across to Europe. We strolled around Ceuta, taking in some snacks and yoghurt, before returning to the port. The ferry trip (122 Pta) was quite relaxing and took just under 2 hours, reaching Algeciras around 10pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a view of the Rock of Gibraltar, although there were lights on it. We had no problems finding accommodation in Algeciras, with plenty of places on offer around the port area. We settled for the Pensione Conchita, which was more than satisfactory, especially after such a long day.
We were up and about next morning by 8.30am to give us time to get to American Express to change money and pick up some breakfast at the markets, before catching the 10.30am bus to Malaga. The weather was pretty miserable – it looked like we had left the sun behind in Africa! The 3-hour trip was
most memorable for huge skyscraper apartments, bars and hotels (all heavily advertised) and an incredible number of motorcycle cops and armed guards. Was a Spanish Civil War imminent? We passed through the ‘plastic honky-tonk’ town of Torremolinos on the way, and it looked just that. We reached Malaga early afternoon and booked into the Pension Laguna. Our room was on the 4th
floor, with no lift, so that limited our comings and goings a bit. We spent the afternoon at the Tourist Information, American Express (4 letters even), Post Office, and a general stroll, including a look at the Almocabar Gateway and the huge Cathedral. We took in a late shower before shooting out for a set price meal of soup, fish and caramel custard, washed down with a nice local vino, and followed by a sherry. By the time we reached the room again, we were too tired to write the Chrissy Cards we’d purchased earlier in the day.
We caught the 9am bus next day to Granada, with the en route scenery fairly mountainous but attractive, with evenly spaced olive trees and villages of whitewashed houses. There was a heavy fog early, but it cleared up to
a sunny but nippy day. We reached Granada around midday, where we were met by an old poppa who led us to his Pension – very central, very homely, and with our own mum & dad ‘n all! As an added bonus, we had a great view of the Sierra Nevada mountains from our window. We spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the place after visiting the Tourist Bureau and the train station. We strolled up a very steep narrow road along the Arab wall ruins before reaching Albaicin, where we got a great view of the famed Alhambra and the snow-covered Sierra Nevadas from the Belvedere of San Nicolas. We then strolled on through the gypsy area, Sacromonte, before doing a round trip back to base. We had a cheap meal of macaroni and omelettes at night, and bought some food for our next day's trip, having been advised of the rip-off prices in local bars.
The following day, we caught another 9am bus, this time for a 2-hour run up the steep road of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, reputedly the highest asphalt road in Europe. We reached the main centre, where a lot of construction work
was going on with high rise hotels – a pity really as it had a great casual atmosphere at that time. While the snowfall was only light, it was not hard to see the skiing potential, with great open slopes and no trees. It was really cold on arrival, but turned into a beautiful sunny day, with much peeling off of clothes as the day progressed. It was generally a pretty lazy day, with some strolling, and some sitting down writing Xmas cards or just reading. We returned to Granada around 7pm, when we posted our cards and booked the next day’s train trip north. We had another omelette meal (undercharged this time) and yet another couple of pastries from our favourite little stall before retiring early, given that a wind had whipped up and it became freezing outside.
We had our first solid sleep overnight in ages, not getting up until 10am. It didn’t get light till around 8am, and it was still freezing despite the sun being up. We had a large brekky of oddments before strolling around the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens for a few hours. We must be getting too blasé at this stage of
our travels (or maybe just tired!), as the old Moorish remains did little to excite, although strolling and napping in the sun was very relaxing. We spent the balance of the afternoon reading and strolling around the shops, before grabbing our gear from the Pension and sitting out a couple of hours in a bar with wines and a meal while waiting for the train. Mama and Papa seemed genuinely sorry to see us go – they even had us up to their apartment for showers and small snacks before we left.
The train for Madrid left at 10pm, and we were unfortunate to have to share a compartment with 6 other people, but luckily they were all quiet and nobody snored (maybe nobody slept!). We even had a few cheerful bits of body language from an old Spanish mama! It was a typical night’s sit up train kip – no better, no worse. It was really cold in the morning, despite the very clear sky, with a magnificent sunrise just before 8am. We arrived late in Madrid but that wasn’t a worry as we had no direct connection. It was yet another clear & sunny, but incredibly cold
day. We spent the morning orientating ourselves with the central city area and trying (unsuccessfully) to get cheap air fares back to London from American Express and the student travel office. We had an omelette lunch before deciding the best way to beat the cold was by passing a couple of pleasant hours in a warm bar reading “Cancer Ward” and sipping on a few local reds. Late in the afternoon, we took a stroll through Old Madrid, taking in the Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor, before returning to Chamatin Station on the Metro for the 7pm train to Paris, which was to travel via San Sebastian and Bordeaux. It was a very expensive trip at 2,800 Pta (5 bucks) for a couchette, supper and breakfast, but we were both completely knackered from the previous night. We had the pleasant company of a French lady with Moroccan and Spanish background, who spoke good English, and an Argentinian psychiatrist, Claudia, who mentioned she had had four husbands and four children – an even distribution? She certainly had a very amorous farewell from her latest beau. It was a relaxing evening with an early bed in a pleasantly heated compartment.
We managed to get quite a good kip and woke pretty refreshed around 8am for a continental breakfast. It was an overcast day with some drizzle but was not cold out. The train was running late, so we had a good chance to check out some of the French countryside from Tours to Orleans and then through to Paris. We arrived an hour late in Paris at 10am and transferred straight up to the Gare du Nord by metro. We had a feed of a ham roll and chocolate meringues before booking for a train/boat/train back to London at an exorbitant 126 FF ($25). Unfortunately, there was no time for first sightings of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triumphe for Joan – I advised that she would just have to come back sometime! (Editor’s Note – she has been back a couple of times since!).
We left Paris at midday and reached Calais some 3 hours later, after some fascinating conversation with Irishman John, including some subjective insights into England cricket selections. There was less than an hour wait for the ferry, and it was a pretty rough trip across. We reached Folkstone, changed our watches back an
hour, and reached London by 7.30pm. From there it was straight back to Hammersmith for a reunion with Dale and Catherine, and to meet the 4 other guys who had moved into the flat in our absence. We had a meal, a chat, and most important of all, a hot bath, before crashing around midnight.
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