Saturday, 29 December 2012

Spain & Cassia & Pablo

Destination: ALICANTE/ELCHE -  Spain
Transport:   Plane  - Norwegian Air (new low-cost airline, with new planes & only one class!)
Luggage:   1 checked @ 12kgs, 1 carry-on @11kgs - they were too busy to notice!
Pills:           1x Jill with little effect - obviously one of those "new" ones from the T.O. doctor - urgh! , 0 Joe

We landed after midnight, significant because the airport closes at midnight, but with a speed I hadn't seen before, Joe managed to make it to the rental car counter just before it closed and then thanks to his superior knowledge of N-S-E-W we found the street that we hoped Cassia & Pablo lived on!  Cassia stuck her head out of their 4th floor apartment to confirm we were in the right place and to tell us to find a parking spot on the street.  Finding a parking spot on the street was going to be a full-time job whenever we had a car.
Cassia & Pablo's apartment (notice the unfinished building opposite)

Cute little apartment C&P live in and they kindly gave up their bedroom with the big bed and en suite but there was no time to rest...  Due to their work schedules and with the public holiday for the saints, it turned out that the next three days was the only time they could come on a trip with us, so next morning we packed up (again) and headed off (again).   (Side note: The highways and transportation system in Spain are very (very) good and all of the driving we did wherever we went was very (very) enjoyable.).  

We arrived at our hotel in Segovia late that night to find an ancient Roman Aqueduct right outside our window… what else would you expect from a Segovia hotel window?  Segovia is a very old city with a beautiful cathedral and a beautiful castle (the one from Beauty and the Beast I think) and the huge aqueduct that is the symbol of the city.  The other thing Segovia is famous for is their tradition of cooking a piglet so tender that it can be cut with a plate. This tradition is so serious that medals are given to the chefs who manage to perfect the art and so we ate at the Restaurant Mesón de José María where HE (José María) cut the pork (that looks exactly like a squished little pig) at the table. It was a great meal, as long as I didn't think about the little pig.
View from our hotel window ... what else would you expect from a Segovia hotel window?

Restaurant Mesón de José María and that's HIM (José María) cutting the piglet with the plate!

Cathedral in Segovia

As if one old city wasn't enough, we drove over to Àvila to enjoy the views and walk around the 2.5 km wall that surrounds the city. And of course they have a tradition …  in Àvila it's beef. Far be it from us to not partake of their traditions and so yet another enjoyable meal in a very old building in a very old beautiful city.
Walking around the wall of Àvila

Back to Segovia to walk the streets at night with the throngs of people that included almost as many children as adults. This day was the holiday so perhaps there were more people than usual, but we found that on most nights, in most cities the streets were always full of people.  A necessity of the very hot weather that makes it too hot to stay indoors (no a.c.) and cooler in the evening and made easier by the inexpensive food and drinks. Inexpensive perhaps, but still good - both the food and the drinks. So inexpensive I took to drinking cava (champagne) while we were in Spain.

C&P had to return home for work . So next day we dropped them to catch the fast trains and we took off for the north-west corner of Spain.  One thing I hadn't expected in Spain (and I'm not sure why except for my ignorance) was so many mountains.  Not hills - mountains - huge mountains. We crossed over and through these mountains on the excellent roads to find San Sebastian that is squeezed in between the mountains and the sea.  A lovely picturesque, busy tourist town where we enjoyed some great tapas/pinchos that we found off the beaten path, thanks to Pablo's tutoring.   The other thing I hadn't expected in Spain (or anywhere) is that you need a passport for EVERY person who is staying in the hotel room. I left mine behind in Elche so there were a couple of tense hotel check-ins. (Note to self: always bring your passport)
Pinchos in San Sebastian

Not far from San Sebastian is Bilbao, a town that until recently wouldn't have made it onto the tourist route, but is now thanks to the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum!  It's a funky building full of funky art and a nice cafeteria with a yummy lunch! It rained that day so we didn't explore anymore of Bilbao.

Guggenheim Bilbao

On the drive back to Elche we ventured into the tip of the Roja wine district. We wanted to find two wineries in particular: another Frank Gehry design and the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (who designed the Turning Torso building in Sweden)!.  

On the back roads in search of the wineries we drove alongside the Camino Trail with the walkers (?pilgrims) with their packs in the damp drizzle (note to self:…) and we came upon an archaeological site of La Hoya - an  Iron Age (that's around 3,000 BC) village.  Such a crazy sight - the Iron Age village with the ultra modern winery as a backdrop and the mountains that are the backdrop for the winery.   Of course most people would know that they need to make a reservation to tour the winery but not us,. We had five minutes to buy the wine. 

Winery building by Santiago Calatrava

 No tasting just hurry up and buy and leave… so we did. In between wineries was a perched-walled village with spectacular views of the surrounding (in it's truest sense) countryside full of wineries and vineyards and off in the distance a flash of pink that was the Marquis de Risqual - the building designed by Frank Gehry; (re; Simpson episode where they design a building by throwing a pile of paper in the air)  The guide book says that once you see this building "… you will never look at a pile of paper the same way again…".  It was another overcast, grey, drizzly day and so our photos don't do justice to the colours and craziness of it all.

Winery - Marquis de Risqual - building by Frank Gehry

More amazing freeways down to the Costa del Sol  around Valencia and then off in the distance -  Benidorm !!   This favourite tourist town, perched on the beach surrounded by mountains, looked like Hong Kong - full of high-rise buildings that sit on top of each other.  We had seen other tourist towns;  Alicante etc. but this one blew our minds! Who would want to stay there crammed in like that?  … Well lots (and lots) of people apparently. We didn't visit, we just drove on by, shaking our heads because now lots of those buildings are empty and some not even finished being built thanks to the economic crises.

Back in Elche and poor Cassia & Pablo were out of their nice bed again- onto the pull-out for the next week or so while we experience "Spanish" life. The walking, the siestas, the late-night meals, the beer, the wine - oh so much wine!  More wine than I have had in my entire life I think.   We drove to Alicante one day and climbed UP to the castle on top of the hill in the middle of town. We climbed DOWN and sat on the boardwalk and watched the British tourists parade before us.  
Alicante (tourist ship in distance) from the (requisite) castle on the hill

That was funny, but having somebody with an umbrella poke through the bushes and try to steal our bags, wasn't so funny.  Thanks to the alert waitress or our six weeks might not have been so wonderful.  Another day we drove to Valencia with Cassia and Annukka; another beautiful city with more buildings by Santiago Calatrava who Pablo tell us is corrupt!
Flamenco helpers in Valencia

Having the car also meant Joseph could drive Cassia to her jobs.  Driving her to her job in Alicante on the weekend saved her at least six hours of travel time because of the reduced bus schedule.  That was nice to do.

Our last trip we went to Granada to see The Alhambra.  Another drizzly day and a race to arrive in time to pickup our tickets for our allotted slot to tour the Palaces (the only slot available!). To save time we chose a hotel right across from The Alhambra.  It also offered free valet parking;  important because The Alhambra sits at the top of a very high hill with very narrow steep streets and minimal to no parking.  After we somehow found the hotel - The Alhambra Palace Hotel  and handed off the car - it was DOWN to the city centre to pickup our tickets and then back UP to the Palace (all by cab). We made it with minutes to spare and as we stood in line the sun came out and it turned out to be a spectacular day to visit the most-visited tourist site in Spain.  It is overwhelmingly beautiful. The tiles, the pools, the fountains, the gardens, the symmetry … the views!  It is very high and so the walk DOWN to the the old city for a late lunch was almost painful and the walk back UP to the hotel afterwards definitely was.  One more trip down and up for breakfast, but this time on the tiny city bus, then it was back to Elche. (Note to self: next time take Annukka's hotel suggestion).

The Nasrid Palance in the Alhambra

The walk down & back up

Our hotel in Granada

Granada from our hotel window

On the way home a stop into Murcia to IKEA to buy some meatballs for C&P.  But - they were OUT OF MEATBALLS!!!  We had never heard of an IKEA store being OUT OF MEATBALLS. But out they were so we found some Christmas decorations to buy instead and then the fiasco of trying to pay.  When you pay with a foreign credit card in Spain you need a passport!!  We tried to explain that we have shopped at IKEA for a million years, that we were FAMILY members and that Joseph had even worked there, that we knew employee #3 (who knew Ingevar)!  Sorry - they needed a passport.  Joseph's was in the car but I had mine and a mental note to self: always (always) carry your passport with you in Europe (and hold your bag close to you at all times so you don't lose said bag).

Finally, after almost three weeks - Cassia and Pablo could have their bed back… we were off to Aus!


  1. love reading your blog jill!

    scott and i plan on doing that walk some day (soon). less for the pilgrimage aspect, more for the wine!!! :D

  2. ps it's a little bit difficult to comment on your blog. you should consider enabling the settings so that you only have to put your name/email address to comment

    1. yep, super easy to comment now! :)

    2. Katrina, we're having problems with a troll so we've had to make it more difficult again. If they keep on we'll have to disable comments. Blogger doesn't give you as many options as wordpress in this regard.