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Clare

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  1. Today is the final day of our holiday, with our plane back to Luton departing from Malaga around 7pm this evening. The other night we had the fun tasks of filling in our passenger locator forms and checking that our lateral flow tests had been successfully despatched. But before the journey home, we just had time for one more adventure We were due to hand in the hire car at Malaga airport at 16.30 this afternoon. The place we were staying in Cordoba was only a couple of hours drive away from Malaga, which meant we had time for a substantial stop-off somewhere on route. After checking out of the apartment some time around 10am this morning, we therefore started driving in the direction of El Torcal de Antequera. El Torcal de Antequera is a natural park, just south of the city of Antequera, and only about a 50-minute drive away from Malaga airport. There's a visitor centre with free car parking, although the carpark wasn't anywhere near as big as I expected and we only just managed to find a space when we arrived some time after 11.30. First impressions were that the landscape here is really impressive. It reminded me a bit of when we had visited Brimham Rocks earlier this year. The rock formations here were much, much bigger than at Brimham Rocks though. After parking the car, we walked towards a signposted viewing area. From here the views were amazing - both of the rocks... ...and of the countryside below us. I'd already decided that this was a great place to visit There are three different walks which you can do in the park. The walks are colour-coded and marked with arrows. We'd decided to do the yellow route, which was described as being 3km and requiring 2 hours. We soon learned that you really need to pay attention to the arrows, as we accidentally went a few steps off track and lost the path! There's huge potential to get lost here because the scenery is so unusual and lots of the rocks look the same. The only way to walk here without following a marked trail is to go on a guided trip. Thankfully after that one incident, we didn't have any more difficulties finding the yellow arrows The scenery we walked through was absolutely stunning. Apparently this is one of the most impressive karst landscapes in Europe - I can see why! In places the path was quite easy to follow. In other places it was rockier and I was glad that I was flying home in my walking boots (mainly because I couldn't fit them in my suitcase - I'd brought them with me for the Caminito del Rey). Tim didn't have his, but seemed to manage okay in trainers The only problem with the route was that there weren't any indications of how far around you were, so we weren't sure how many kilometres we still had left to walk. I could have kept walking all day through scenery like this, but was conscious of the fact that we had a plane to catch We kept following the yellow markers, and before 2 hours were up we caught sight of the visitor centre where we'd started on the horizon. We enjoyed the final views as we walked towards it. I particularly loved these striped rocks. You could see the different layers in them so clearly! When we got back to the visitor centre we realised it had a restaurant, so we were able to sit outside on a sunny terrace and enjoy a final view of the countryside. We had pudding too, of course Then all that was left to do was to drive the little hire car back towards Malaga It's been an absolutely wonderful holiday and this was a great way to end it
  2. We had an exciting excursion planned today for our final full day in Spain; a visit to the Alhambra in Granada. We first visited the Alhambra in 2014 and it was the highlight of our trip to Spain. We had a bit of a trek to get there that time though, taking a bus for several hours from Cordoba and walking miles through the city of Granada before we reached our destination. This time, with a hire car, the journey was going to be considerably easier, although it was still a trip of around 200km from where we're staying. After a reasonably earlier start, we arrived at the Alhambra around 11am and parked in what seemed like quite an empty carpark. I had no illusions that the Alhambra was going to be quiet today, though. This is the second most popular visitor attraction in the whole of Spain, out-visited only by the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and while tickets don't sell out quite as quickly as for the Caminito del Rey, you still have to book them several weeks in advance. At least, I had booked these tickets a couple of weeks in advance and only just about managed to get them for the date I wanted. Considering a Wednesday in November is not exactly high season, I'm guessing that they must sell out quite quickly at peak times. You can buy the tickets online and print them at home to bring with you, but what seems like a bit of a hassle is that you need to enter an ID number for each visitor you buy a ticket for, and then everyone has to show that ID when they arrive. I wasn't sure how rigorously this was going to be checked in practice, but it turned out the answer was "very rigorously"! We had to show our passports to enter the general Alhambra area and then again to enter each of the individual attractions which we visited within it. There were more checks of our documentation at the Alhambra than at Malaga airport or the Gibraltar border Never mind, it was worth it to visit such a beautiful place There are three main areas to visit within the Alhambra complex: the Alcazaba, the Generalife gardens and the Nasrid palaces. Entry to the Nasrid palaces is via a timed slot which you have to book in advance. Entry to the Alcazaba and the Generalife is allowed at any time on the day for which you've purchased a ticket (but you can only visit each area once). We were booked in for the Nasrid palace at 3pm, so decided to start with a walk around the Generalife. The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty, who ruled Granada from around 1230 to 1492. It consists of a series of formal gardens, as well as a palace with courtyards. I didn't know how impressive the gardens would be in November, but there were still a surprising amount of flowers and greenery. There were also some amazing views across towards the Alcazaba and the Nasrid palaces. We explored the gardens for a while... ...then moved on to the courtyards of the palace. It looks quite peaceful in the pictures but we actually got stuck behind a large Turkish tour group at this point which was a bit annoying We managed to overtake them as we moved on to the palace. The patterns were really beautiful... ...and the views weren't bad either I absolutely loved the little fountains and water features in the gardens. The whole complex is really beautiful. We reached the top of the Generalife and enjoyed the views once again. It's always nice when you come back to somewhere you really enjoyed visiting first time around and find it's just as amazing as you remember Leaving the Generalife, we strolled through a smaller area of gardens on our way towards the Alcazaba. These gardens were really pretty too, and a lot quieter than the main Generalife. There were flowers... ...palm trees... ...and hedges pruned in the shape of crenellations As we left the gardens, we passed this church... ...plus a couple of hotels which looked like they might be promising spots to get lunch. Then we reached the outskirts of the Alcazaba. This is the fortress and the oldest part of the Alhambra. We passed through this very ornate gate... ...and then we were within the high walls of the castle. The Alcazaba has one very high tower - the Torre de la Vela - at its far end. The rest of the castle is made up of these huge ramparts. We came to a big terrace, from where we had views back down towards Granada. It's clear from here that it's a very large city. We weren't planning to go down into it today, but I did recognise the large cathedral which we saw when we visited in 2014. There were some great views of the Alcazaba itself from here too. My absolute favourite view was in this direction, though. You might have to zoom in a bit, but if you do you should just be able to make out a few tiny spots of snow on the mountains in the distance. There's allegedly a ski resort in the mountains behind Granada, but I'm guessing it doesn't have the most reliable snowfall! We climbed to the top of the high watchtower, which was a bit of an interesting experience as it was quite a narrow staircase with people climbing in both directions. The views weren't noticeable better from up here than they had been from lower down. Visit to the Alcazaba completed, we climbed back down in search of lunch. We got a table on the terrace of one of the hotel restaurants with a really lovely view We both had burgers (mine was without all the leaves!)... ...followed by desserts (not 100% sure what these were called, but they were very nice!). Not the cheapest meal of the holiday, but it successfully enabled us to kill the time until we were allowed to enter the Nasrid palaces at 15.00 We had to queue up, have our passports scanned again, then finally we were inside These were the main royal palaces, inhabited by the rulers of Granada. The tour leads you through a succession of rooms, each with more elaborate patterns and decorations than the last. This is definitely the highlight of a visit to the Alhambra, but because of its popularity and the timed entry system, there are always hordes of people in any given room. That's why most of our pictures are taken above the level of other people's heads There were some cool details if you looked down too, though. I loved the tiles on this floor... ...and was particularly impressed to find what looked like ducks on some of them There were some amazing patterns on the walls too. The windows were pretty incredible too. And the archways! Sometimes it was impossible not to get other people in the photos. The main irritation was guided tours, which caused large groups of people to stand in a given room and make it difficult for other people to get around them. It was mandatory to wear masks though and everyone seemed to be complying with that, which was good. Periodically we emerged from the inner rooms into courtyards. There were some beautiful details here too. Back inside, there were some more incredible ceilings like this one... ...and this one. Last time we came here we were using digital cameras and we ended up taking so many photos that Tim filled the memory card on his and started having to delete things. I think the battery on the camera might then ultimately have died It's hard not to constantly take photos when you're somewhere as spectacular as this. We passed through some archways into a courtyard once again. You can see it was quite busy! This is the Courtyard of the Lions, with this fountain as its centrepiece. From here we moved into what seemed to be one of the most elaborate rooms in the palaces. Another absolutely stunning ceiling! We were getting towards the end of the tour now. We walked through this archway... ...and out into the final gardens. Then it was back out into the open sunshine One final view to admire before we needed to head back to the car It's been a lot of travelling to get to the Alhambra and back today, but 100% worth it The tickets were only €14 (which feels good value compared to €11 for the Mezquita in Cordoba) and the parking was an additional €10. It feels like a small price to have paid to visit somewhere so unique.
  3. Having arrived in Cordoba yesterday evening, we were keen to get out and explore the city this morning. Fortunately we didn't have far to go; the apartment we're staying in is just on the opposite side of the river from the old town. We first visited Cordoba during our 2014 trip to Spain and one of my main memories is the enormous bridge over the river Guadalquivir. The bridge was originally built by the Romans in the 1st century BC, before being rebuilt during the 8th century when Cordoba was under Islamic rule. As we walked across it this morning we had a good view of Cordoba's most famous sight: the Mezquita. The Mezquita has been a Catholic cathedral since 1236, when Cordoba was captured by Christian forces. However, the original building was a mosque, built in the 8th century when Cordoba was the capital of the Islamic region of Al-Andalus. Some parts of the building look like a normal Christian cathedral. This bell tower, for example, was built in the 17th century to replace a minaret. In other places, the Islamic influence is still very visible. The building is beautiful from the outside, but even more so from the inside. Last time we were here I went inside, but Tim decided that the €8 entry fee was too steep and stayed outdoors This time we were both planning to go inside, although since 2014 the entrance fee has increased to €11. We queued up outside to buy tickets from a ticket machine. The queue was quite slow moving, as some people seemed to be having difficulties with the machine, although we found it quite straightforward when we used it. You had to buy a ticket for a specific half-hour slot. We'd just missed 11am, so bought tickets for 11.30 and had a short stroll around the streets of the old town while we waited for our turn. Soon it was our turn to go inside. I was really excited to see the red and white striped archways which I remembered from last time Some parts of the interior look like a traditional cathedral. Admittedly, a rather elaborate one. But it's these columns and archways which make the building really unique. This area would have been the main prayer hall back when the building was a mosque. In total there are around 850 of these columns within the building. The overall effect is really spectacular. On one side of the cathedral more of the original Islamic decorations are visible. The patterns are really intricate. In some places the ceiling is patterned too. I really loved these carved patterns on the walls as well Once we'd finished admiring the cathedral, we stepped back out into the sunshine to admire the rest of Cordoba's sights. We discovered the remains of a Roman forum, which I have no recollection of seeing last time we were here We walked through pretty little squares... ...complete with orange trees. One of the other things I remembered from last time we were in Cordoba were the beautiful parks. We were here in July before, so definitely appreciated the shade when walking beneath these trees. Today we were more appreciating the sunshine We stopped for a while in a cafe in the park for coffee Then we continued back into the centre of Cordoba, admiring the walls of the Alcazar. We stopped in a tiny little restaurant for a lunch of steak and potatoes. I was relieved Tim had asked the waiter for my steak to be well-done; his looked rather rare! We finished the meal with a chocolate/custardy kind of pudding, plus coffee. After the food we had another stroll, admiring the Alcazar from the other side. Then it was back across the Roman bridge, towards our apartment. I'm glad that Cordoba has turned out to be just as beautiful as I remember it being
  4. We had another big day of travelling ahead of us today, as we left El Puerto de Santa Maria behind and travelled towards our final destination of Cordoba. We weren't allowed to check into our apartment in Cordoba until 5pm, which left us with quite a bit of time to fill as the drive itself was due to take less than three hours. When looking at the map, I realised that our route would take us right around the outskirts of Seville. We'd visited Seville during our 2014 trip to Spain and it wasn't a place which was high on our list of destinations we wanted to revisit. We'd been there in July, which probably isn't the best time to visit this part of Spain, and the temperatures were unbearably hot. My main memory is arriving in mid-afternoon, having struggled to pull a broken suitcase down a series of streets with very narrow pavements, and having to sit in the apartment eating Pringles because the restaurants didn't start serving dinner until 9pm. My other abiding memory is that Seville smelled terrible, with the centre of town being dominated by horse-drawn carriages. So I wasn't exactly desperate to go back That said, Seville was the obvious place to break our journey today and so we decided to give it a second chance. I had a premonition that driving/parking in Seville could be a bit nightmarish, so I researched whether there was anything like a "park and ride" system. It turns out that Seville has a metro and I read that a couple of the metro stations on the outskirts of town have free carparks. We drove towards one of these metro stations, a place called San Juan Bajo, and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was indeed a large free carpark with plenty of spaces It was also one of the most scenic places we've ever parked; there was a beautiful view up towards this church on a hill above us. Metro tickets cost a couple of Euros each and we were soon on our way towards the city centre. We hadn't done a huge amount of Seville research in advance of this trip, but had decided to get off the metro at a station called Puerta Jerez which seemed reasonably central. We emerged into an impressive square, complete with flowers and Christmas decorations. In the distance we could see a large tower and, of course, one of the ubiquitous horse and carriages. The good news is that because the weather was so much cooler than in July - and there was quite a strong breeze today at times - the smell of horses never became overwhelming Our vague plan was to walk towards a square we remembered from our previous visit to Seville - Plaza de España - so we set off in that direction. The square was well signposted and we found it without too many difficulties... ...although when we arrived, the entire square turned out to be in a state of chaos. Initially I thought they were having a car boot sale, but later it seemed more like it was a rally of classic cars It didn't matter; Plaza de España was still beautiful One of the things I do remember really loving about Seville first time around were the amazing tiles in this square. The lampposts are particularly ornate. When we first came here we'd never been to Portugal, but now that we have it does feel very reminiscent of some of the tiles we've seen there The square itself is enormous and was built in 1929 to host an Ibero-American exposition. Around the edge of the square are these very ornate benches, which seem to be dedicated to each of the major regions in Spain. We found the one for Salamanca, which was one of our favourites places during our 2014 Spain trip There's also some water in the middle of the square, which is crossed via these beautiful bridges. All in all it's a very impressive square Star Wars fans may also recognise it from the film Attack of the Clones, where it was featured in scenes of the planet Naboo. It was much easier to enjoy the scenery without the baking heat from last time we were here. It's by no means cold here in November, though; it was warm enough today for ice-cream, so we enjoyed one as we strolled around the gardens outside the square. Seville seems to be a surprisingly green city. We made our way back into the city centre via a series of parks... ...and leafy avenues. We knew we had hit the centre when we got our first glimpse of Seville's cathedral. The cathedral in Seville is absolutely enormous; one of the largest churches in the world. It's impossible to give a proper impression of its size in photos... ...because you can only ever fit a small part of it on the screen. We were impressed anyway, but we were also hungry by this point so we set off on a search for food. That ended up taking a bit longer than I expected! There were lots of restaurants in Seville, but many of them only had a few outdoor tables and were already full; it looked like Sunday was a popular day for Spanish people to go out for lunch. We eventually found a nice Italian restaurant that managed to squeeze us in. We enjoyed some lasagne/tagliatelle, followed by delicious Nutella pancakes After lunch we had a bit more time to explore Seville. Honestly, walking around some of these streets I wouldn't have known that I'd ever been to Seville before I loved these enormous trees, cut into box shapes. And also this building with the striped domed roof. We walked through various squares, on our way back to the Puerta Jerez metro station. We passed the cathedral again, but still couldn't fit it all in one photo. We were impressed by this massive door, which had some incredible detail. Leaving the cathedral behind, we got back on the metro and picked up our car. From there we had a drive or another 90 minutes or so until we reached the apartment we are renting in Cordoba. It's nothing too spectacular on the inside, with a kitchen, living room... ...plus bedroom... ...but the great thing about it is that it comes with a space in a parking garage Cordoba is another place where I think it would be really difficult to park if you didn't have an allocated space. It got dark shortly after we arrived here so we haven't seen much of Cordoba yet, but we really enjoyed it when we were here in 2014 so looking forward to seeing more of it tomorrow. And Seville has definitely redeemed itself in my eyes after today's visit; I would go back again, just maybe not in summer
  5. Our trip to Gibraltar yesterday was fun but a bit tiring, so we had a less adventurous day planned today - visiting the nearby town of Cadiz. When planning the holiday I had initially hoped to stay in Cadiz, but it turned out to be a difficult place to find any kind of accommodation with parking. The place we are staying in in El Puerto de Santa Maria is around 30km away from the centre of Cadiz, so we had a short drive towards the town this morning. Cadiz is really unusual in that the city is located on a narrow strip of a peninsula sticking out into the sea, so we approached it via an enormous bridge. The first thing we noticed as we drove around looking for parking was that there was a huge cruise ship docked in the port. Oh dear! Once we'd parked up and started to explore the town we did run into a few groups of tourists on excursions from the ship, but luckily not too many First impressions of Cadiz were that it's a really lovely place. There was a bright blue sky, lots of palm trees and some beautiful buildings. We'd parked not far away from Cadiz cathedral, which is really enormous. It's one of those cathedrals where you can't fit the entire building in one photo The cathedral was set in a big square, which was already decorated for Christmas. You might just be able to make out on the photos that the trunks of the palm trees are covered in fairy lights. We hadn't come to Cadiz armed with a map, so we just decided to wander around the streets and see where we ended up. There were lots of pretty buildings, some with enclosed balconies which were a bit reminiscent of Malta. We soon found ourselves in Plaza de San Antonio, one of the town's main squares. One of the buildings here made me think of Portugal; part of the facade was covered in beautiful blue tiles. I also loved this tree with purple flowers on the other side of the square. The geographical situation of Cadiz means that the town is almost completely surrounded by the sea and before long we got our first glimpse of it. We decided to walk along by the coast and admire the views. As we walked, we came across various fortifications. We also found some beautiful gardens The photos from today are going to look odd, because it was a strange combination of being cold enough to need a jumper but sunny enough to wear sunglasses As we were walking through the gardens we saw this tree with an enormous trunk Leaving the gardens, we walked alongside the coast once again. We were able to enter one of the coastal fortifications for free and explore. There were some great views out to sea from the walls. Facemasks were compulsory, even though we were predominantly outside. After the castle we came to one of Cadiz's beaches. It seemed like a nice proper sandy beach, though it was a bit cold for anyone to be sunbathing on it today. A bit further on around the coast we saw another castle in the distance. We were able to walk towards it via a long pier. This is the castle of San Sebastian. It wasn't open today, but it looked impressive from the outside. We made our way back along the pier, towards the centre of Cadiz. It was after 1pm now, so we figured Spanish breakfast time would definitely be over and we should be able to start looking for some lunch We continued to follow the walkway alongside the sea. As we got closer to the historical centre again we got an amazing view of the cathedral. I thought it was pretty when we were in the cathedral square, but I hadn't realised that it also had this enormous dome Did I mention that it was really windy in Cadiz? When we'd finished admiring the cathedral we found a little restaurant for lunch. We both had the menu of the day, which involved chicken soup (although to be honest, mine seemed to have more ham and egg(!) in it than actual chicken) plus spaghetti bolognese. It was really good value, at €11.50 each After lunch we had a final look at the cathedral... ...and walked through the cathedral square, in search of one attraction in Cadiz which we hadn't yet managed to find. I'd read in the guidebook that Cadiz had a Roman theatre, so I was keen to see what it was like. When we eventually tracked it down, it seemed like it was rather on the small side. Probably not worth travelling to Cadiz for, but we've had a lovely day here regardless
  6. It had almost been dark when we arrived at our accommodation in El Puerto de Santa Maria last night, so we hadn't got much of a sense of what the neighbourhood we're staying in is like. When I looked out of the windows this morning, I saw that it was another bright sunny day and we seemed to staying right on the edge of a forest. The trees looked really cool, so once we'd had breakfast I wanted to go and explore. It turned out to be a forest that was more fun to look at than to be in; the ground was very sandy underfoot, making it difficult to walk, and it was quite dark under the canopy of trees. Walking through the forest was worthwhile though, because it meant we also found our way to the nearby beach We had a little walk on the sand before getting in the car and setting off towards our main destination of the day: Gibraltar. Going to Gibraltar meant retracing our steps slightly, driving back in the direction of Malaga. It would probably have made more sense to do Gibraltar as a day trip when travelling between Malaga and Cadiz, but I'd ruled that out because I really wanted to do yesterday's inland route and see the white villages Luckily our route was motorway and so we only had around an hour and a half of driving before we reached the Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción, which sits on the border between Spain and Gibraltar. The plan was to park the car in La Línea and walk across the border to Gibraltar; partly because driving in Gibraltar is supposed to be horrendous, with long queues at the border at peak times of the day, and partly I'm guessing we weren't supposed to take our hire car out of Spain anyway. Thankfully there are plenty of car parks in La Línea so we found one with spaces, pinned it on Google maps so that we could retrieve the car again later and set off towards the border. I'd done some research on the border in advance and established that you didn't need to provide a Covid test if you were entering Gibraltar by land (although you do if you are flying in to the airport). All we needed were our passports, which we duly showed and got stamped out of Spain. Now we just had to hope they'd let us back in again at the end of the day The first thing we saw when we left passport control was a bright red telephone box. In the other direction, we got our first view of the famous Rock of Gibraltar. From this lion... ...to this postbox... ...it was very clear that we weren't in Spain anymore! I was eager to start exploring Gibraltar properly, but we were only able to walk a few hundred metres along the main road - Winston Churchill Avenue - before we got caught in a queue and had to stand waiting for 10 - 15 minutes. Because Gibraltar is so small, the airport runway actually intersects the main road So both traffic and pedestrians were held back behind level-crossing style barriers as we waited for Wizzair and EasyJet flights to take off. Eventually the barriers were lifted and we were able to walk across the runway and towards the centre of town. We found the main shopping street without too much difficulty. It was looking strangely festive, with Christmas decorations already up. As we walked along it we spotted plenty of shops from back home; Marks & Spencers, Matalan, Holland & Barrett to name but a few. We were feeling peckish by this point so we decided to have an early lunch. Tim spotted an Italian restaurant in the main square which looked like a better bet than the multiple fish and chip shops, so we decided to give it a go. It turned out to be lovely; we both had delicious spaghetti with meatballs When planning the trip to Gibraltar, I'd spent a bit of time debating with myself whether I should pay for the expensive cable car to the top of the rock or save money by climbing up it. The tickets were quite pricey; £30 each for return tickets on the cable car (£17) and entry to the nature reserve on the upper rock (£13). Eventually I decided to fork out for the tickets - having got here and seen how high the rock is, that definitely felt like the right decision We walked to the cable car base station and were able to get on it almost straightaway, arriving at the top of the rock in a matter of minutes. The views were instantly amazing. More or less the first thing we saw when we stepped out of the cable car was a sign warning us about the apes. We had a small backpack with us, containing our passports and some other essentials. A man at the cable car station recommended that people wear backpacks on their front rather than their backs to deter any attempted theft of bags by the apes, so we did that any time we caught sight of any (well, Tim did, I wasn't keen on the idea of an ape being anywhere near me ) From up here we could really see how built up Gibraltar is. The views away from Gibraltar were beautiful though. Most of the upper part of the Rock of Gibraltar is a nature reserve and there's lots to see here. We hadn't been walking for long when we caught sight of our first apes. This one seemed to be attacking a van! Meanwhile these ones were just admiring the view Gibraltar has Europe's only population of wild monkeys. These are Barbary macaques, thought to have originated from Morocco. Legend has it that as long as there are monkeys on the Rock, Gibraltar will remain British. I was slightly intimidated by them at first, but they did seem to mind their own business and allow us to walk past them without any problems. Passing the monkeys, we began to walk uphill and explore the nature reserve. We could see down to a beach on the far side of Gibraltar. We reached a viewing platform called the Skywalk, from where the views were fantastic. From there we continued to climb higher, via a series of stone steps. Gibraltar has a long military history and there are all sorts of different fortifications here. Once we reached the highpoint of our climb we could see back towards the town of Gibraltar and the Spanish coast beyond. That made me question what we were looking at in the opposite direction. We consulted the map and it turned out that we were looking at... Africa I had read somewhere that it was possible to see Morocco from Gibraltar on a clear day, but I hadn't expected it to look so near. I was very excited to be able to see another continent From here our path led downhill, towards St Michael's Cave. This is a part of a series of limestone caves within the Rock. I knew that there were impressive caves here. What I hadn't realised was that the interior of this one is periodically lit up in different colours, in a sort of light show. I was slightly confused when the cave randomly started turning purple, but it was actually very pretty Back outside the cave, we had some more walking to do... ...and some more monkeys to avoid. The next attraction which I really wanted to see was the Windsor Suspension Bridge. The bridge passes over a 50m-deep gorge within the nature reserve. It swayed slightly in the wind, but after the Caminito del Rey it was nothing We continued on through the reserve, realising that we were walking so far downhill that we wouldn't actually need the cable car to get back to the town. Soon we could see the suspension bridge in the distance behind us. Just around the corner from here was a place known as "Apes' Den" where we had an opportunity to see even more of the Barbary macaques. There were lots of them perched here on the walls of a terrace overlooking the town. Again, they seemed pretty placid and inclined to mind their own business. I think they only bother tourists when they think they have food in their bags! There were plenty of signs up warning people not to touch or feed the animals; both are an offence punishable by fines. This was my favourite shot of the day... ...until I got this one Once we'd finished admiring both the monkeys and the views, we continued on our way back down to Gibraltar. As we left the nature reserve, I was slightly concerned by this sign suggesting there were snakes We made it back into the town without incident and stopped in the main square for a drink to cool off, before walking back across the runway towards passport control. Google showed us that we'd done quite a bit of walking! The return journey was just as straightforward; our passports were stamped back into Spain without any problems and we didn't even have to show any proof of vaccination. Then it was back in the car for the drive home to El Puerto de Santa Maria. It's been another very exciting day and the views in Gibraltar definitely exceeded my expectations
  7. It was another bright sunny day when we woke up in El Chorro this morning. After breakfast in the hotel we went out for a final stroll around the village to enjoy the views. We stopped for a quick coffee at a nearby cafe before walking back to our hotel (the big tall building in the photo below) and checking out. There were some beautiful views as we drove along the road out of El Chorro. In particular, we could see the bridge and part of the pathway of the Caminito del Rey which we had been walking on yesterday Looking at the pathway from here made it seem quite scary, although this bit hadn't felt scary at all when we were on it yesterday! Our first destination for today was the village of Setenil de las Bodegas, around 35 miles from El Chorro. We arrived and found a parking space by the side of the road on our second attempt. The first attempt involved us parking on what looked like a normal street, then having a man approach us and tell us we owed him €2! It seemed like some sort of racket so we didn't want to pay it, but we also didn't want to not pay it and leave the car there in case something happened to it. Luckily the second space we found didn't come with any strings attached First impressions of Setenil were that it looked really pretty. Setenil is one of Andalusia's so-called "pueblos blancos" (white towns) so we were expecting to see lots of little whitewashed houses. What makes Setenil unique among the white towns, however, is the fact that there are several streets here where the houses are literally built into the rock. The town is located along a narrow river gorge and in places the rock even overhangs the street Looking down from up on high where we'd parked, the village almost didn't look real! It must be very strange living in a house like this. Setenil is quite a well-known village and so even on a weekday in November, the main street was pretty busy. I can imagine it's even busier in the summer, with lots of people making day trips to visit it. This street isn't pedestrianised either, so it was a bit chaotic at times with cars and vans coming in different directions. Once we branched off onto some side streets, everything got a lot quieter though. Even away from the attraction of the main street, the village was really attractive with its bright white houses. We found that there were other, quieter residential streets with houses built into the rock too. There weren't many other tourists who made it as far as this one The town is built on a hill so we had to walk up some pretty steep slopes before we came to the main square. It was really pretty here though - well worth the climb We found yet more houses built into the side of the rock. Before we knew it we had reached the outskirts of the town, so we needed to turn around and head back towards the centre. Soon we were nearly back at the main street, which seemed a little quieter than it had when we first arrived. After one last look at the view, we got back in the car to head towards our second stop of the day - Olvera. Olvera was only 10 miles down the road from Setenil, so not the longest of drives. We managed to find a parking space on the outskirts of town and were soon walking towards the centre. Like all the towns in this part of the world Olvera is built on a hill so we had a bit of climbing to do. The views were amazing though We were walking towards the main church, which is set at the top of the town near the castle. There's a large terrace in front of the church with great views down to the lower town. We also had a good view of the castle, which dates from the 13th century. It was certainly in a good strategic position on this big rock! The countryside around Olvera looked really beautiful too. There's more greenery in this part of Spain than I expected. We still had a lot of miles to cover today, so soon it was time to climb back down towards the car. Our next stop, around 20 miles away, was the small village of Zahara de la Sierra. Zahara is in a really lovely location, overlooking a small reservoir. This town has fortifications too - we saw a small castle overlooking the reservoir... ...and a larger tower right on top of the hill. Zahara was the easiest village to park in, but we found a space right at the bottom of the hill the town is built on, so we had a bit of a walk upwards towards the centre. Before long we came to this little white tower. From here we could see up towards the castle... ...and down towards the rest of the town. Zahara's main square was just around the corner from here. There was a terrace in front of the square, from where we could look down on the reservoir. As you can probably tell from the photo, the sun was a bit bright today The square itself was lovely too. All the restaurants and cafes seemed to be centred around here, so it seemed like a good place to get lunch. Nowhere seemed to have menus out which always makes life more difficult, but we found a restaurant where we could get the menu by scanning a QR code on the table. The food took quite a long time to come, but when it did it was delicious Tim had chicken with roquefort and I had garlic chicken, which was absolutely beautiful. We may not have eaten the free olives we were given though It was a really lovely place to sit and eat and the weather is just about still warm enough to sit outside (though we did see multiple Spanish people wearing coats!) From Zahara, our route led us through the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Some of the scenery here was really spectacular and we stopped at multiple viewpoints to enjoy it. Again, I've found that this part of Spain doesn't look as barren as I had expected. There are a lot of olive trees everywhere, which I guess explains why we keep getting free olives with our drinks From this particular viewpoint we could see down to the reservoir by Zahara, as well as the winding mountain road that we'd just travelled on. The route continued to wind through the mountains... ...until eventually we ended up in the village of Grazalema itself. We didn't get out of the car to properly explore this village, although we did manage to find somewhere to stock up on petrol nearby. The road continued to be really scenic as we drove from Grazalema towards Arcos de la Frontera. In some places it was really green... ...while in others it was quite rocky. We didn't have time to properly explore Arcos de la Frontera, because we wanted to try and get to our accommodation before dark. It looks like a fascinating town though, perched on the top of an enormous ridge. Another place where you wouldn't be able to live if you had vertigo I think! From Arcos de la Frontera we had another 35 miles or so to our ultimate destination for the evening, El Puerto de Santa Maria. I had initially been hoping to stay in the nearby town of Cadiz, but it seemed absolutely impossible to find decent accommodation there which included parking. El Puerto de Santa Maria is more of a beach resort, but close enough to Cadiz that we'll be able to visit for a day trip without too much difficulty The place we're staying in seems pretty spacious, with a large living/dining area... ...kitchen... ...and choice between two different bedrooms. There's definitely plenty of space, which is good because we're staying here for three nights
  8. It was a bright sunny morning when we woke up in El Chorro this morning. I'd set the alarm for 07.30 so that we could be at breakfast in the hotel when it opened. The hotel had a rather wide range of breakfast hours, serving from 8am all the way up until midday. The breakfast selection was one of those which would probably have been great in the old days as a buffet, when you could look at things before deciding whether you wanted to try them, but was less good these days when you have to order everything from a waiter. I ordered scrambled eggs and ended up with a portion that looked like it contained at least four eggs, so at least it was going to keep me full for a while! I'd chosen to stay in this particular hotel in El Chorro because we had booked to do what promised to be a very spectacular walk today: El Caminito del Rey. This is a linear walk which ends in El Chorro, so the first step was that we needed to catch a bus to the walk's start point. I'd struggled to find exact timetables for this bus online, but was hoping there was going to be one at 09.30. We could literally see the bus stop from our bedroom window in the hotel, so we didn't have far to go! The bus duly turned up as expected and we had a short drive of around 20 minutes to the start point of the walk in Ardales. The bus tickets were only €1.55 each, which was good value. It was only possible to pay with cash though, so a good job I'd brought Euros. The bus deposited us at the side of the road, from where we had a walk of 1.5km to the official starting point. Luckily the entire 1.5km wasn't through this rather dark tunnel! As soon as we emerged from the tunnel we had some great views of the rocky landscape around El Chorro. We weren't yet sure though whether we were actually going to be able to get the views we really wanted to see. For reasons that will become clear once you see the photos, the Caminito del Rey walk is closed when the weather becomes wet or windy. I'd had a text message yesterday saying that there was a risk of closure due to wind today, so until we got to the ticket office I wasn't sure whether we were going to have to retrace our steps back to the road. But it turned out we were in luck! While we had heard some gusts of wind during the night, it wasn't enough to close the path and when we arrived at the official starting point we had our tickets scanned and were handed our helmets. Yep, that's right, this is a walk where you have to wear a helmet (I think there's a small chance of falling rocks!) We had been slightly worried as to whether Tim was going to be able to fit the helmet onto his head, but luckily it just about worked I'd booked the tickets online a couple of weeks in advance and we had a slot for 10.45. A limited number of people are allowed onto the route at any one time so that it doesn't become too crowded. It's a really popular attraction and the tickets sell out unbelievably quickly. I'd been online the day the November dates were released and just about managed to buy tickets for the date I wanted. Now that we'd arrived, the views didn't disappoint The Caminito del Rey is a famous walkway, built along the sides of a narrow gorge outside El Chorro. It was constructed at the start of the twentieth century as a route for workers building a hydroelectric plant at El Chorro to transport materials. It gets its name from the fact that in 1921, King Alfonso XIII walked along the route as part of the inauguration of the nearby dam. The original pathway fell into disrepair in later decades and was notorious for being an extremely dangerous route. Around ten years ago the local regional government decided to put some money into restoring it and turning the route into a tourist attraction. Today's pathway is extremely safe, with new wooden boards and a sturdy fence all the way around the edge. Although it looks scary in some of the photos, it was really easy to walk on and I was relieved to find that I didn't have vertigo After an initial series of wooden walkways high above the gorge, the path began to descend. The views back up towards where we'd been were spectacular After this the path continued at a lower level for a while. We walked through a forest with great views down towards the river. The path was quite wide here which was good; a lot of the tickets for the route are sold as guided tours, so it enabled us to overtake a few large tour groups The path never felt overly crowded though. And the views of the countryside were amazing. I've been really pleasantly surprised by how beautiful this part of Spain is. Definitely not what I would have expected to find a short drive away from Malaga As we walked through the trees we caught sight of the next set of wooden walkways on the side of the gorge. The gorge is really spectacular here. We attempted a selfie but only managed to get our heads and no view It's forbidden to bring selfie sticks, umbrellas and large backpacks on the walk to prevent people causing a blockage on the path. The train line to Malaga runs along the opposite side of the gorge. As we walked we saw a train appear on one side of the rocks... ...before travelling through the mountain and emerging on the other side. We also realised that we could see the original historical pathway a few metres below the modern pathway that we were walking on. It must have been a very scary route to take to work! Today's pathway with it's big fence definitely felt a lot safer And I was very grateful for the fence with drops like this! Eventually we turned a corner and saw what I'd read was the scariest part of the walk - the bridge across the gorge. The bridge sways a bit in the breeze, which is why the route is closed if the weather becomes too windy. We attempted another selfie, with somewhat limited success There were a few more corners to walk around before it was our turn to cross the bridge. The drops were incredible here! And the views of the old pathway were slightly terrifying Then we were crossing the bridge. It did sway a little bit, but it was sturdier than I'd expected Once we'd walked a bit further on and could look back on it we really got a sense of how amazing it was. From here we started to climb downwards via a series of steps. We could just make out a rainbow in the water spurting out from under the bridge Soon we could look back towards the tiny pathway clinging on to the side of the gorge. We now just had an easy pathway of around 1.5km back towards El Chorro. It was hard not to keep turning around and looking back to where we'd been, though. We even managed a slightly more successful selfie at one point This is definitely one of the most exciting and adventurous walks we've ever done The beauty of staying in El Chorro was that we could actually now see our hotel in the distance behind us. We went back for a late lunch of steak and chips in the hotel restaurant, followed by a rest and an afternoon stroll around El Chorro. It's been a really great day and I'm so pleased the weather cooperated with our plans today
  9. The weather wasn't forecast to be great today, but when we woke up in Malaga this morning it still felt pretty warm. We were checking out of our apartment today and heading off on the next stage of our trip, but before we did so we planned to visit the Cafeteria Esperanto, in the hope that it would be open and we'd be able to get some breakfast. Luckily it was and we were able to able to enjoy coffee and churros while sitting outside - all for the bargain price of €3.50 Once we'd finished breakfast we headed back to the apartment, where we packed up our things and set off in our mint-green hire car towards the small town of Ronda. Ronda is located inland, about 65 miles from Malaga, and from the pictures I'd seen online it looked like a really beautiful place. The first part of our journey was quite speedy, leaving Malaga by what seemed like a motorway, but as we got closer towards Ronda we began travelling on winding roads through the Sierra de las Nieves natural park. The further we travelled the worse the weather became and when we eventually arrived in Ronda around midday it was decidedly damp! We parked the car and began walking towards the centre of town, through some pretty gardens. These led us to a viewpoint from where we got our first glimpse of the town. Ronda is situated at the top of the El Tajo gorge. The gorge actually divides the town in half and is spanned by a couple of bridges, which we were hoping to see later in the day. It looks like quite a precarious location for a town! Even though today was a bit misty, we had some great views of the surrounding countryside. I particularly liked this window in the rock. Walking further towards the town, we came to Ronda's bull ring. Next to here was another viewpoint with a bandstand. From here we could see a bit more of the town It turned out that we weren't far away from the centre now and we soon got our first glimpse of Puente Nuevo. Construction of this bridge across the gorge started in 1759 and took 34 years to complete. The town's main road now runs across the bridge. We crossed it to see the view in the opposite direction. I would not want to live in a house with a drop like this outside my window!! From a viewing platform on this side of the road we could see Puente Viejo, the old bridge. This one was built in 1616 and today is only accessible for pedestrians. We were hungry by this point so found a small restaurant with a very affordable "menu of the day". For €12.50 each, we had a starter of spaghetti bolognese (which was large enough to be a main meal in its own right!), a main course (Tim had a Spanish stew, I went with chicken schnitzel) and a pudding of chocolate mousse, with a free drink and bread thrown in too. It seemed like very good value After lunch we had another walk around Ronda, crossing over the new bridge again... ...and admiring some of the town's churches. We were trying to find our way down to the old bridge, but the first path we tried was closed off. We eventually found an alternative route, climbing down some of the steep little streets in the old town. It had stopped raining by this point but the rain had made the pavements quite wet and slippery so the walk was a bit of a challenge at times! Eventually we made it down to the old bridge The gorge is narrower here, so it's not as wide as the newer bridge. We had some great views from here back up towards the town and could even see the river Guadalevín down at the bottom of the gorge. We also found a really pretty walkway to take us back up to the main town; a series of steps interspersed with viewing platforms, which was much easier to climb back up than the narrow streets would have been. Apparently the gorge is 120 metres deep here. It was certainly enough to give me vertigo if I looked down at it for too long. I can't imagine what it's like living in these houses! Soon we were back up to the level of the main town. We strolled back to the car the way we had come, enjoying the views back towards Ronda. The weather had cleared up a bit now so we had some clearer views of the surrounding countryside too. It seems like a really pretty part of Spain. I had no idea the countryside around Malaga was so mountainous until I started researching this trip. We are staying in a hotel in a town called El Chorro tonight, which was about an hour's drive away from Ronda. The views continued to be beautiful as we made our way through the mountains. There's a limit to how fast our tiny little car will go uphill, though We made it to El Chorro without any difficulty and checked in to the hotel. The room is a little bit unusual - we've got a nice living area... ...and an equally nice bedroom... ...but the two are linked by this very steep and narrow spiral staircase! Not one to attempt after a couple of glasses of wine, I think We've got some great views of the mountains from our windows though
  10. When we were walking back from the centre of town to our apartment last night, we needed to consult Google Maps a couple of times to find our way. Guess what Tim saw as he zoomed in on the streets in our local area?! Yes, that's right - Calle Esperanto We were tired and more hoping to find a supermarket than an Esperanto monument last night, but when we woke up this morning - refreshed after nearly 12 hours sleep - we knew what our first stop was going to be. Esperanto Street, which was only a short walk away from where we're staying, actually surpassed our expectations, coming complete with a Cafeteria Esperanto! Today's a public holiday in Spain so it was closed, otherwise we would have popped in for a coffee. It was fun to see though, as well as a handful of other Esperanto signs on the street Once we'd finished exploring Calle Esperanto, we set off to find the parts of Malaga we'd actually intended to see There were some beautiful big trees as we walked into the city centre and the sky was a lovely shade of blue for a day when the weather forecast had predicted rain. Before too long we came to the part of town where we'd eaten yesterday evening. This street had some rather impressive decorations. Unfortunately it was a bit too sunny to make for a good photo, though! We caught a glimpse of the tower of Malaga's cathedral around the corner, so walked towards it. We soon found ourselves in Plaza de la Constitución, one of the main squares in Malaga. The cathedral was just around the corner from here. It's so enormous that we didn't manage to fit it all in a photo. Walking further south, we came towards Malaga's main park. There were some really impressive palm trees here and we had a lovely walk in the shade. At times it really felt quite tropical! We were walking towards Malaga's bull ring. We found it, but it turned out to be another one of those things which was so enormous it was difficult to fit it all in one photo. As we turned to walk back towards the town centre, we found ourselves strolling through some more beautiful gardens. There is a surprising amount of greenery and flowers in Malaga considering how relentlessly hot the weather is here. It was pretty cool to walk through the park and see oranges growing on the trees We were walking towards the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress initially built in the early 11th century. The entrance, where we had to queue for tickets, is just next door to Malaga's Roman theatre. I had initially been a bit disappointed because the Roman theatre isn't open on Mondays, but it seems like it probably wouldn't have been the most impressive Roman remains we've ever seen. Although there was quite a long queue for tickets, it moved quickly. Once we got to the front we were able to purchase them from a machine; €5.50 each for a combined ticket that would give us entry both to the Alcazaba and another castle which we planned to visit later in the day. As we began walking around the Alcazaba, we had some great views back towards Malaga cathedral. We could also see down towards the park with the palm trees where we'd been walking, with the bull ring in the distance too. It was fun walking around the ramparts, but unbelievably hot. I'd been expecting temperatures in the early twenties, but we saw a thermometer saying 27 degrees today The view that surprised me most was the view out to sea. I knew that Malaga had a port, but I hadn't expected there to be a huge cruise ship in it. I guess cruising is back! The other thing which will probably stand out from the photos is how built up Malaga is. It's really quite a large city, with a population of around 578,000. There were some pretty gardens within the Alcazaba. We could also see up towards Gibralfaro castle, which we planned to visit later in the day. Once we'd finished admiring the views we had a drink to cool off and then walked back down towards the city. There was actually a better view of the walls of the Alcazaba (and of the Roman theatre) once we were outside it. It was midday by this point and we were absolutely starving, so we sat down at a restaurant in a nearby square to get lunch. It seems like our bodies haven't yet adapted to Spanish time, because when we sat down the waitress asked whether we wanted breakfast She gave us a menu for lunch, but it was closer to half 12 before we were able to order it. Once we'd finished eating it was time to explore castle Gibralfaro, which is another Moorish fortification on a hill above Malaga. The climb uphill towards it was a bit steep, but there were some more impressive views back down towards the town. After 20 minutes or so of climbing, we knew we were nearly there when we caught sight of a large Spanish flag. Once we made it to the top we were able to stroll around the castle ramparts. The region around Malaga is really quite mountainous and we're looking forward to exploring more inland from tomorrow For today though we were pretty tired after climbing uphill in the heat, so we decided to head back to the apartment for a siesta before going out for another stroll later in the evening
  11. It's a long time since I've been on a plane. 666 days since I flew back to Gatwick from Narvik in the north of Norway, to be exact! Since then I've had a lot of trips to Scotland and even more trips to my new favourite county of Northumberland. But after Tim's successful trip to Poland last month and with Covid restrictions gradually decreasing, it became increasingly tempting to book a holiday abroad. I knew that I could have time off work in early November, and while that wouldn't normally be my preferred time of year to go away, it was at least helpful in allowing us to narrow down a shortlist of places which were permitting entry to British tourists and wouldn't be cold and rainy in November. After a lot of deliberation I ended up booking return flights to Malaga; not a place that has ever been on my bucket list, but after the best part of two years spent in the UK, the thought of going anywhere was incredibly exciting. Of course, a combination of Brexit and Covid means that travel has become a bit more complicated since last time I flew. In preparation for going to Malaga I stocked up on different types of face masks and spent a considerable amount of time reading up on the latest Spanish restrictions. Spain is currently permitting entry to vaccinated travellers from the UK without the need to take a Covid test, so long as you can prove your vaccination status and fill in a piece of paperwork called the "Spain Travel Health" form in advance. The form, which has to be filled out 48 hours before you arrive in Spain, is in principle quite straightforward, but the website isn't going to win any prizes for being user-friendly. It took me a while to get through mine yesterday, but once I did I was emailed a QR code which I just needed to print and bring with me to show on arrival. I got a really good deal on the flights out, paying £22 each for a ticket from Luton to Malaga. The only catches were that it cost an extra £25 to bring a suitcase and the flight itself was at 07.00. With airport parking booked for 04.30, this translated to an alarm set for 02.30 in the morning. An additional frisson of excitement was introduced into the proceedings by the fact that the clocks were switching from daylight savings time back to GMT at 02.00 this morning. I set my alarm for what I thought was going to be the right time and hoped for the best. The good news is that the clocks did change when I expected, my phone automatically updated itself and we got up at the correct time The journey to Luton was easy, with very little other traffic on the roads, and the airport parking experience was fairly straightforward too. The airport itself didn't seem overly busy. We only queued for around 10 minutes at the EasyJet baggage drop to deposit our bags and significantly less than that at security, where we almost walked straight through. No one in Luton was interested in seeing our vaccination status etc; it was just the usual showing of boarding passes and passports. We boarded the flight ahead of schedule and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't completely full. The seat next to us was empty, as was the entire row in front, so it didn't feel particularly crowded. That was good, because we ended up sitting on the plane for around half an hour before we were ultimately able to take off; the pilot said something about air traffic control restrictions over France. It was very cloudy in the UK and it seemed pretty cloudy over Europe too, so there wasn't much of a view for the majority of the flight. It was only when we started to descend towards Malaga that we got our first glimpse of Spain. We landed in Malaga around 40 minutes behind schedule and then spent another 30 minutes or so sitting in the plane on an obscure part of the runway, waiting for another plane to vacate our parking spot. Never mind, we weren't going to be able to check into our accommodation until 3pm, so it didn't really matter Eventually we were able to disembark the plane and progress through the various checks at the airport. First of all we had the passport check, where I got my first post-Brexit passport stamp, and then we had the health check. It was all over in a flash; the staff scanned our QR codes from the Spain Travel Health forms, vaguely glanced at our vaccination certificates and that was it; we were officially in Spain We collected our luggage and exited the airport, trying to find a shuttle bus which would take us to the place we'd hired a car from. Tim tracked down the shuttle and soon we were at the hire place, waiting in turn to get our car. First impressions of Spain were that it was seriously hot - way hotter than I had expected it to be in November. We were both wearing jumpers and trousers which hadn't felt particularly warm when we'd left Nuneaton at 3am this morning, but which now felt absolutely sweltering. The pilot had said temperatures would get up to 26 degrees celsius today and it definitely felt like it. Wearing a face mask made it feel even hotter. I hadn't found it to bad on the plane and had quite happily managed to fall asleep wearing it, but keeping it on in the heat was more of a struggle. We were hiring a car from a company called Malaga Car, which wasn't the cheapest car hire company I found online but which for around EUR 400 was prepared to hire us a car without holding a massive excess on our credit cards. There were other companies hiring cars for closer to EUR 200 but with excesses up to EUR 1200, which made me rather nervous! I had deliberately hired the smallest car possible, thinking that would be easiest for parking and navigating on small Spanish streets, but even I was slightly surprised by the tiny mint-green Fiat 500 which we were eventually presented with We just about managed to squeeze ourselves and our luggage into it and then we were off! It was only a drive of around 15 minutes or so into the centre of Malaga and we managed it without too many difficulties. Despite all the delays, it still wasn't quite 2pm and so we were a bit early for checking into the apartment. We got temporarily excited when we got a Whatsapp message from the owner asking for confirmation of the time we were arriving, thinking perhaps we might be able to check in a bit earlier, but it turned out that he couldn't accommodate us until 3. We drove around in circles for a while before finding somewhere where we could park the car for a bit and go and get a drink. The parking situation in Malaga seems really difficult so I was glad that I'd booked an apartment with parking. And I was even more glad, when we eventually got there at 3, that I'd hired the smallest possible car. It turned out that to access the parking space we had to drive our car in a special car lift and travel down several floors underneath the apartment building It would definitely have been a struggle with a larger car! Once the parking was sorted, checking into the apartment was easy. I'd realised after booking this one that the small print stated a cash deposit of EUR 150 was required on arrival, but we didn't get asked for that in the end which was a bonus The apartment itself is nice and comfy with a living and dining area... ... and small kitchen downstairs... ...then a separate bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The bed looked very tempting given our extreme lack of sleep, but we hadn't eaten anything since a couple of shortbread biscuits on the plane so after a brief bit of unpacking we decided to walk towards central Malaga and try to find a restaurant. The outskirts of Malaga are not particularly scenic, with lots of tall apartment blocks. Once we got closer to the centre it became more attractive and we got a glimpse of the edge of the old town. In what might be a true stereotype of Brits arriving in Malaga, we eventually ended up eating chicken tikka masala In our defence, it was around 4pm by this stage so we had missed Spanish lunchtime and were still hours away from anything like a respectable Spanish dinner time, so we were just glad to find anywhere still serving food. And it was actually really nice It felt so unusual to be somewhere warm enough to sit outside and eat dinner! Tonight is definitely going to be an early night, but we're looking forward to exploring more of Malaga tomorrow
  12. When we came to Northumberland for the first May bank holiday earlier this year, we did a really nice walk near a village called Harbottle. We enjoyed it so much that we decided that it was worth repeating on this trip to Northumberland too The walk starts from a Forestry Commission car park just outside Harbottle. Harbottle is just under 40 miles from where we're staying in Hexham, so we had a drive of about an hour to reach the car park. I thought it might be busy being a bank holiday, but when we arrived there were only a handful of other cars in the car park. There had been quite a lot of other people walking in the Simonside hills yesterday; this seemed deserted in comparison. It was good to park without any problems anyway and we set off along the trail, following a sign uphill towards the Drake Stone. This is one of those walks where you get most of the uphill out of the way straight away. The path led us quite steeply uphill through a forest, then out into an open area of moorland. Before too long we had a view up to the large stone we were walking towards. The Drake Stone sits on a hill above Harbottle and is said by local legend to have supernatural healing powers. The path to get to the top was a bit steep and rocky in places, although not as steep and rocky as the Simonside walk had been yesterday. The views across the surrounding countryside were lovely when we turned around. Soon we had made it to the top This was the enormous Drake Stone. It was so large it was actually quite hard to fit it all in a photo! The views from the top were great, even though it wasn't the sunniest of days. Once we'd finished admiring them, the next part of the path led us around the Drake Stone and down the other side of the hill. We were walking towards Harbottle Lake. The path was a bit steep again in places, but I was better prepared for Northumberland this time around and had remembered my walking pole The walk instructions had warned that the area around the lake could be boggy. It didn't seem too bad today, but we did find some boggy bits as we climbed up through the nearby forest on the next section of the walk. The path through the woods was lovely. Though there were a few steep bits here too. This bit was definitely a lot easier with a pole Once we came out of the forest, the path levelled off into a nice flat track. I loved the views of the heather here... ...and also the views of the patchwork fields. I loved walking past all these cows slightly less Soon we were back down to the level of the road, which we crossed. We then followed another path alongside a river and through fields. From here we had a view back up towards the Drake Stone on the hill above us. Soon we were back in the village of Harbottle, not far from where we'd left the car. When we came here last time, we had a drink in the beer garden of a pub here which is also home to a pizzeria. Today we had come back planning to eat and we weren't disappointed! We split a meat pizza and a bolognese pizza between us; the bolognese in particular was amazing It was a great end to what has been another fun walk in Northumberland
  13. When we woke up this morning it was a lovely bright sunny day in Hexham We didn't have firm plans for the day in advance, but when we saw how nice the weather was we decided to make the most of it and try out a walk which I'd seen described online as one of the most scenic in Northumberland. The walk was in the Simonside hills near Rothbury, a drive of about 30 miles from where we were staying in Hexham. The walk started from a Forestry Commission car park, hidden down a narrow single track road. It was the sort of place you can only find if you already know it's there! Luckily there was plenty of place to park though, and the parking was free. We set off following a path through the trees. The route initially led us through the forest, which was really beautiful. We had tantalising glimpses of views as we walked. The path soon began to slope uphill and before long we were out of the trees. The walk was a circular one, only 4.5 miles long, but the description suggested it would take 3 hours. The path continued to lead uphill and our efforts were soon rewarded by a view of the hills beginning to appear through the trees. There was about 250m of uphill to do in total (it was very sunny, that's why I'm pulling a strange face in this photo ) We were climbing to the top of this hill. There were some beautiful views as we went up, but it was quick a steep, rocky path. Eventually we made it to the top Well, I think this bit was the very top! There were some amazing views from up here. I could see why it was described as one of the most scenic walks in Northumberland (Standing on this rock wasn't as scary as it looks ) Now that we were at the highest point, a relatively flat path led us across the top of the hills. There were wonderful views in all directions. Eventually the path began to gradually lead downwards. There was lots of heather everywhere and it looked amazing. The only problem was that it also seemed to be a habitat for a lot of flies! I don't seem to have got bitten by anything, but I feel like I spent a lot of time trying to swat them away from me. Soon the descent became quite rapid. We were now quite a long way below where we'd been walking. The path was easy now, starting to lead us back towards the trees. There was still lots of heather everywhere, but fewer flies down here We were most of the way through the walk now, on the final stretch back towards the car park. The last bit of the walk took us along a forest road... ...and then down through the forest itself. We made it back to the car and then headed to the nearby village of Rothbury for a late lunch Rothbury itself seemed like a really pretty village. We had a bit of a stroll around before getting back in the car to head back to Hexham. We've been really lucky with the weather today and managed to get away from people while enjoying great views, so all in all it's been a very successful day
  14. Another bank holiday, another trip to Northumberland It feels like we've been to Northumberland quite a lot over the course of the past year, but it's a really lovely part of the country and - most importantly for a bank holiday - it's quite remote and (hopefully!) going to be a bit quieter than holiday hotspots like Cornwall. We made a reasonably prompt start from home this morning, but ran into a bit of traffic on the drive north. Some of the delays seemed to be caused by people travelling to Leeds for a festival, so the congestion eased up a bit once we were past the junction for Leeds. I'd planned for us to stop en route to Northumberland at a place called Fountains Abbey. I'd wanted to stop here on previous trips north but hadn't been able to, because it's a National Trust property and during the pandemic it was mandatory to book a 30 minute slot. Home to Fountains Abbey was a journey of about 136 miles and with a distance like that it's almost impossible to predict when you are going to arrive. So I'd always had to find other alternatives which didn't require prebooking to visit. We'd actually driven past Fountains Abbey earlier this year when we visited the nearby Brimham Rocks. One advantage of "Freedom Day" having passed is that it's now no longer required to prebook for the National Trust. So today I was quite excited that we were finally going to get to visit Fountains Abbey It was after 1pm by the time we arrived and parked. Initially the car parks looked quite full, but it turned out there was a large overflow car park with plenty of space. Phew! Before long we had our first glimpse of the abbey. The abbey was founded in 1132, as a very enthusiastic National Trust volunteer explained to us at the entrance. It survived until 1539, at which point it was dissolved by Henry VIII. As you can tell from the pictures, the abbey is quite a popular place to visit and there were certainly plenty of visitors today! Once we left the main lawn behind and started following some of the paths around the grounds, we got some quieter views though. The ruins were really impressive; it was clearly an enormous monastery in its day. I knew that this National Trust property was a World Heritage Site, but what I hadn't realised until a National Trust volunteer explained to us is that it's not because of the ruins of Fountains Abbey, but because of what's located next to it. This is Studley Royal Water Garden, which is apparently one of the best preserved examples of a Georgian water garden. This isn't the sort of garden which has flowers; it's more of a landscaped garden with different pools and water features. It was a really pretty place to walk around, even though it was quite a cloudy day. At the end of the water garden we found a tea room, so we stopped for a quick coffee. Then we strolled back along the opposite side of the water garden... ...and back towards the abbey. From this side we could see what enormous windows it must have had! Then it was back in the car for another 75 miles or so towards Hexham, where we're staying in a cottage I found on Airbnb. It's got a cosy living room... ...a little kitchen... ...and an outdoor area with a beautiful view of the countryside The bathroom is rather posh... ...and the bedroom looks lovely too. I think it's going to be a nice place to stay for the next few nights
  15. It was a bit damp again when we woke up in our lodge in Barstobrick this morning. This definitely hasn't been a holiday for sunny weather, although somehow I have still managed to pick up a bit of sunburn Even though it wasn't a sunny morning, the view from the lodge was lovely. We'd been provided with a leaflet about a local walking trail, so once we'd had breakfast and checked out we decided to give it a try. We were able to start walking right from where we'd been staying. The walk started off fairly sedately, but it soon began to climb higher. The good thing about climbing higher was that we had some good views out across the surrounding countryside. We were walking towards this monument, on the top of Barstobrick hill. It was erected in memory of the inventor James Neilson, who invented something called the hot-blast process which apparently increased the efficiency of smelting iron. The trail we were walking on was called the Hot Blast Trail We were rather out of breath by the time we got to the top, but the views were pretty. And we could see for a really long way The path uphill had been quite wide and easy to follow, but the path downhill turned out to be considerably narrower. I wasn't really thrilled about how steep it was Parts of the path were also quite overgrown, so we had to push our way through bracken at times. It felt like quite a remote part of the country and we didn't see anyone else doing the same walk. Once we got down the hill the path became more sedate again, leading us through a forest. We also passed through a pretty garden before ending up back at where we'd left the car. Before we set off on the journey home, we stopped for coffee and cake at the Barstobrick cafe The drive home was 275 miles - so rather long(!) - but we've had such a great holiday that it definitely felt worthwhile
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