Spain – Nov 2019 – Feb 2020

The Cap Finistère set out on the 30th of October from Portsmouth to Bilbao without me being on board. An ambulance ride to hospital at the end of August kept me there for a week, and what with further procedures and follow-up appointments, by the end of September, it was looking more and more likely that I would have to cancel – or at least postpone. I had no alternative other than to miss the sailing. So here we are setting out for the Costa del Sol about a month later than usual. For several years now, I’ve booked my outward sailing from Portsmouth quite early in the year, so trying to find a suitable crossing at short notice can often be difficult. It isn’t that the ferries become full, but rather than the basic cabins get booked – leaving only the more expensive luxury cabins available.

So this year my sailing is now on the Baie de Seine which leaves early in the morning. Therefore, I decided to drive down to Portsmouth the previous evening and spend the night on the dock-side. With powerful floodlighting and a Brittany Ferries parking marshal in attendance, it’s possible to spend a safe and peaceful night parked up with others.

Leaving day passed in a whirl. First, there was last minute shopping to get. Then cushions and bedding from the house to caravan. Then food items from house fridge to van fridge. Then finally, time to mover the caravan from its parking spot alongside the house, out onto the drive and hitch on. Lights checked, hitch firmly in position. All ready to start out – after a quick dinner. As I prepared to eat, my emails pinged. Shock horror – it was from Brittany Ferries. Was it possible that after nine years of travelling with them, I was about to experience my first cancellation? Several do during the winter months. I nervously opened the email. Relief – – it wasn’t a cancellation – just a delay – but by 15 hours. So rather than setting off to sleep on the dockside, I took myself off upstairs to bed. I left for Portsmouth in the early evening and arrived at the ferry terminal at 7.30. Instead of one night on board, we were to get two. We were checked through at 9 pm but only as far as security.

In fact, not until half-one in the morning, did I reach my cabin. At 05.30 I needed to ‘take a walk’, and was astounded to see we were still at the berth. However, at half-eight, when I awoke, we were well and truly on our way. This crossing marks my 23rd time I’ve crossed Biscay and it must be one of the roughest. Fortunately – apart from moving about the ship, rough seas don’t worry me. I took this video from the bar window which overlooks the prow of the ship.

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Needless to say, the bar was virtually empty.

This isn’t the first time I’ve travelled on the ‘economie’ service and I’ve written about it in previous blogs but for travellers who are new to my website, and may be contemplating using the economie service, here are my views again. The ‘economie’ cabins compare favourably with those on the cruise ferries. Beds and bunks are similar, the en-suite bathrooms are the same, lighting and power sockets are similar. The only difference being that on the ‘economie’ ships, the entry-level cabins have laminate flooring whilst the cruise-ferries have carpet. Because of the postponement, I booked this crossing much later than normal. Therefore I had no option other than to choose a dearer cabin than usual. I must say, it is nice to be able to look out to daylight and sea. Also in spite of my earlier comment – this cabin does have carpet on the floor. On all the ferries, some cabins have two beds whilst others have a bed and an overhead bunk. If like me, you are getting on in years, and you are a couple, you will probably be better off with two beds, rather than a bunk. Getting up and down from a bunk might just require a bit more agility than we are capable of. The lounges and bars are larger on the cruise ferries, with at times some form of entertainment, whilst the ‘economie’ ships settle for smaller bars. Likewise with the shop and restaurant. If you need beauty salons, hairdressers, nail bars, and the cinema, then you’ll need the cruise-ferry. All the ferries have wifi in the main lounges and seating areas. To my mind, it’s usually quicker getting off the smaller ferries, but it really depends upon where you find yourself parked. Finally, the economie ferry shows a saving of between £50 and £100 over the bigger vessels.

The ferry arrived in Santander at 10.30 and having been parked on deck 4, I was quickly called forward for unloading. My passport got a quick glance and with no further vehicle examination, I was heading for the motorway. If one ignores the right turn into the town centre, the road makes its way through the dock installations till eventually, it joins the A67 motorway at a roundabout.

Route planning for this trip started during the early summer when I thought it would be nice to find new places but also to see some towns first visited six or seven years ago, so my drive this year will take me along the A67/A62.

This will be my itinerary – although it’s always subject to change.

And the first change wasn’t long in coming. Sometime before I reached my first stop, the sky had turned black, the rain was beating down and the forecast didn’t indicate any immediate change. So I drove on – finally arriving at Tordesillas. I found the site, on the river bank at the edge of town. I booked in for two nights.

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Camping El Astral is a large site situated alongside a wide and fast-flowing River Duero. The town of Tordesillas is built on a hill and is situated on the far side of the bridge The approach to the site is along an unattractive, potholed, dirt road, leading into an open space in front of the reception building. I entered the office where I was greeted warmly. My passport was copied but my ACSI card was rejected. I booked in for two nights with electricity. I was given a code with which to raise the barrier; also a plan of the site with instructions to park where I wished. I suggested paying immediately and was asked for just €23 – for two nights with electricity!. Although the site runs parallel with the river, it’s not possible to approach the water since a high wire fence surrounds the site and is fixed about 30 yards from the river bank. The toilet block is situated centrally on the site and is fitted out to a very high standard. Laundry sinks are fitted outside the block but under cover. Three pay-to-use washing machines are also installed. Electric bollards are shared by six or so pitches, so a full length mains cable could be required. Water taps are situated at the road sides about 100 meters apart – as are the waste bins. Four foot high hedges separate each plot, many of which are drive through.

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When I arrived, seven other units were also parked. With electric and water connected, I removed a chicken chasseur from my freezer compartment, and after several minutes in the microwave, dinner was ready. I find that well-frozen food from the home freezer, still stays quite solid after the crossing from Portsmouth if the fridge is packed with care. As I prepared for bed, there was that familiar sound again. The rain had caught up with me!

It rained for most of the night and continued into the morning. By ten thirty all my neighbours had packed and moved on. But having booked two nights, I stayed in the caravan taking advantage of the site’s very good internet connection. By lunch time the rain had stopped and the clouds were showing signs of brightening so I got ready to go out and explore. Just a couple of hundred yards along the river bank is the bridge crossing over into town.

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It’s known that there was a bridge here in the 10th Century, however the present bridge which is built on ten pointed arches dates from the 16th Century with further repairs being carried out at later periods. Because the river is wide and fast-flowing, repair work is even now being undertaken. On the far side of the bridge, at the entrance to the town is a monument – the Toro de la Vega.

IMG_20191129_131217 I drove up the hill, through the old part of the town and arrived at the Plaza Mayor, a typical Castillian square surrounded by arcaded houses and big balconies.

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The surface is cobbled using two types of stone forming a pattern of squares. A road runs from each side of the square to where once was an outer wall, pierced with entrance gates for each of the four sides. In medieval times, the square would have been used for markets, festivities, bull-fights and religious processions. On all four sides of the square there are colonnaded walk-ways supporting the upper floors of the buildings and their balconies.

I took one of the four roads leading from the square and eventually arrived at the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara. The building was originally built as a palace by Alfonso XI in 1340 but after Alfonso’s death, his son, Peter gave it to his daughter who turned it into a monastery in memory of Santa Clara who had previously founded a Franciscan order of women known as Poor Clares. Wandering about the grounds and buildings, one is reminded of the Alhambra at Granada.

Real Monasterio de Santa Clara 1

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The weather had been kind for four hours but it was too good to last. On the walk back to the Plaza, the rain started again. Time to move on tomorrow.

Saturday.

The sun was shining this morning . First time I’ve seen it since I arrived in Spain.    In spite of a neighbour who wanted to talk, I had everything packed and ready to roll by 9.45. The drive to the motorway was along straight, traffic-free roads and within four miles, I was heading south towards Salamanca. By now, the sun had left us and the clouds were taking on an unpleasant shade of black. A few more miles rolled by and I became aware of a headwind with the bushes along the central reservation tossing their heads and leaning towards me. And it wasn’t long before the rain started again. Together with an ever increasing altitude showing on the dashboard, my fuel gauge was falling rapidly. I’ddone 160 miles but still had another fifty miles to do before reaching my planned stop, but then I saw the turn for Caceres, I decided to call it a day and booked in at Camping Caceres.

I’ve been here before so I knew I would not be disappointed. I presented my ACSI card, booked in for two nights and paid €36. The last time I was here was in beautiful weather, under cloudless skies. The site is situated on a slope but every pitch has been levelled. To one side of every plot there is a brick and tiled roofed building. These rooms are practically tiled on floor and walls and each contains a hand basin, toilet pan and shower. The hot water is supplied by instant heaters, so is always available. Each pitch is also supplied with a three metre hose connection, a plastic table and a couple of plastic chairs. Each plot has its own electrical socket. Not many caravanners were on site, so I had a wide choice of pitch. I was fortunate in that I got legs down, water plumbed in and electric connected in the dry, for not long afterwards, the rain returned and persisted throughout the night.

Sunday.

I didn’t need to raise the blinds to see the day. I could hear it. When I did raise them I was greeted by a grim view.

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It looked as though it was to be another ‘in’ day. But then the weather forecast for the district was showing some sunshine between 12 and 3, followed by thunderstorms. On the strength of the forecast, I had an early lunch, then set out for the town – which is about two miles away. I’d already noted down the coordinates for a multi-floored car park close to the historic quarter. Being Sunday, I found a slot on the ground floor. I walked through narrow streets and down flights of steps towards the Plaza Mayor hardly believing what I was seeing. The sun was beginning to shine. By the time I’d reached the square, the sky had taken on a completely different aspect – providing I didn’t look behind me!

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IMG_20191201_134155 I walked across the square, up the steps and through the Arco de la Estrella to the square containing the Church of Santa Maria. As I stood looking across at the Episcopal Palace, then up at the bell-tower of the church, I was reminded of the passage of time. When I was here last in 2015, I’d thought nothing of climbing up the belfry to see the view from the top. Now, sadly, the first dozen of those steps would leave me struggling to breathe.

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I made my way back through the narrow streets and discovered that since my last visit, an escalator had been fitted alongside one flight of steps. What a welcome sight! Back in the car park, and I presented my ticket to the machine. A very reasonable 85 cents. I suppose it was too good to last. By the time I was back at the site, the rain had returned. Also another caravanner had arrived at this virtually empty site. What made him want to park outside my front window?

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Tomorrow is moving day again………And the weather is supposed to be changing… .for the better……….We’ll see!

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Monday.

Yes! There was a definite improvement in the weather. At least the rain had stopped. I only had 50miles to do to reach Merida – my next planned stop, so there was no great hurry to leave Caceres.

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In fact, it was nearly 11 oclock before I departed and headed north for a few miles to reach the nearest motorway junction. An hour & 10 mins later, I arrived at Camping Merida. Reception was closed, with a notice in the window to the effect that I should find a pitch and return to reception at 18.00hrs.

After some lunch, I took a walk around the site. It’s situated two or three miles outside the town, on a main road leading to the A5 motorway. During the winter, much of the site is cordoned off, confining winter travellers to one side of the central roadway. Pitches are defined by rows of mature trees, with two pitches being back to back. There is one toilet block which is modern, clean and tidy. Water taps are spaced along the central roadway, with an electrical supply fitted at the end of each avenue of pitches – so a full length cable might be required.

Later in the afternoon I drove to the local Mercadona to stock up on a few supplies. If the forecast for tomorrow is correct, we should be in for a good day.

Tuesday.

On the strength of the forecast, I got up early because I’d planned a busy day, so was ready to leave the site by 8.45. I took the road out of town, across the motorway and up into the hills. After six miles I’d reached the Prospero Reservoir, first created by the Romans to supply their city, Emerita Augusta with a water supply.

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IMG_20191203_103244The dam is constructed of stone blocks supported by an earthen wall, then buttressed on both sides. It’s 425 metres long and 21 meters high.

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Water from the reservoir was carried in ducts with a fall of one metre in two kilometres so water never flowed faster that 150 litres per second. The water arrived in the town over the Aqueduct Los Milagros, which was next on my places to see.

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Back in the car, I drove into town. I found a parking slot close to the river, but what now? Do I walk – which I don’t find easy these days – or do I unload the bike and take my chance with speeding traffic along very narrow streets. I decided to walk. The first stretch was to the Alcazar, built by the Arab invaders in the 8th Century on the site of a Roman gateway and fort..

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I bought my ticket which also gives entry to all the other places of interest. From the top of the walls there are some beautiful views across the river.

IMG_20191203_112731In the foreground is the Roman Bridge which was built to carry the Roman road from the south to the north of the Iberian peninsular. The bridge was first erected in 25BC and because the river is wide and susceptible to flooding, it is built on huge rectangular blocks with 60 arches. Midway across the river, the Romans built a huge island on which to carry some of the roadway. Because of the width of the river, the bridge is the longest existing Roman bridge throughout what was the old Roman Empire.

From the Alcazar I took a road slightly up hill, arriving at the Temple of Diana. Not until the 17th Century was it given that name.

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We now know that the temple was built in honour of the Emperor Augustus since many artifacts relating to him and his family have been found here.

Just a 100 yards or so up the road is the Forum Portico.

IMG_20191203_120301It was built around the middle of the 1st century in the image of the Augustus Forum in Rome.

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Close by is the Trajan Arch, one of the original entrances to their town.

Finally, a few streets away is the complex containing the arena and theatre. Most arenas of the Roman period are built to a standard plan. Only the size of the arena changes, according to the status of the town.

IMG_20191203_124321IMG_20191203_122231Oval in shape with tiered seating, and the floor of the arena being sanded with the central area covered with removable wooden planks. Below the floor were cells where gladiators and animals awaited their turn to become part of the performance. This one has been dated to the 8th C BC and was constructed to seat around 15000 people.

Next door to the Arena is the Roman Theatre built on the orders of Marcus Agrippa, a Roman general and son in law to Caesar Augustus. It had seating for 6000 spectators.

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The sun was still shining; a few clouds had rolled in, but I’d had enough. It was back to the car for a very late lunch and a beer. Tomorrow is moving day again……. Camping Villsom at Seville!

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