I had not intended writing any further blog posts, well from the sunnier side of the Bay of Biscay at least, as I had not expected to have much to write about on the journey from the South East Coast of Spain up to the Northern Coast, well that will teach me to not pre-empt things in future !! So, although this post will be ‘chronologically’ out of order I trust that you will enjoy ‘An Unscheduled Ramble‘.
Having decided to spread our journey over two days we were able to have our usual coffee on the balcony on our last morning at the apartment and to look out at our wonderful views for one last time. It would probably have made us feel better if our last day had been grey and overcast but no, it was sunny, very warm and both the sky and the sea were their usual lovely blue. After coffee and a catch up on the News and weather, the remainder of the morning was spent doing the final Hoover and clean and of course last-minute packing, but then the sad part, dust covers placed on all the furniture, water turned off and taps drained, all security shutters closed, plunging the apartment into total darkness and then we flipped the mains electric switch and secured the door behind us.
The Spanish roads are never really that busy, unlike the majority of UK roads, and it only took us two-hours to reach the ring road around Seville, but then, unusually, we hit wall to wall traffic and our first Spanish traffic jam, cars, vans, lorries all bumper to bumper and nobody wanting to give way to anyone else, we were not going anywhere very fast and we inched our way in between the traffic, then others inched their way in between us, we needed eyes everywhere, behind us, to our left, in front and to the right, traffic was coming at us every which way, but we kept our cool and although it cost us the thirty-minutes travel time we had made up on the first bit of the journey, eventually we managed to thread our way up to the North of Seville and normality resumed in the blink of an eye, the traffic cleared to near nothingness again and we could relax and enjoy the drive and the scenery.
We reached the town of ‘Zafra’, our selected destination for the night, four-hours after leaving the apartment. Our first impression as we entered the town was that it looked just like any other Spanish working town, Industrial areas left and right and to be honest a bit tired looking. The ‘Aire’ was easy to find from just following ‘Snoopy’s’ guidance but it was also well signposted, it was just off a roundabout on the main approach road, there were ten bays specifically marked out for Motorhomes and the usual service facilities were clean and everything was working, even the water supply. There were already two other Motorhomes parked up and by then of the evening we were joined by another three vans. It was a lovely and warm evening and the sun was still shining so, after a hot cuppa, we decided to go and explore to see what, if anything, this town had to offer.
Coincidentally, we were scheduled to visit this town three years ago in 2015, once again it was on our return journey to the UK, but on that occasion the town was holding its bi-annual ‘Iberico Pork Festival’, we never actually got here on that occasion as Shazza made me do a detour, in totally the wrong direction to which we were supposed to be heading, that detour cost me a lot of money, yes, it was a change of direction, but in more ways than one and it resulted in us purchasing a certain ‘Bolt Hole’ !!
The town was a short walk from the Aire but I was a bit underwhelmed by it at first, it was nothing out of the ordinary, it had a shopping street with all the usual variety of shops you would expect, but nothing that made it stand out as being special or very picturesque. Fortunately, prior to leaving the van, I had checked the town plan on-line and had seen that there were a couple of Plaza’s that looked worthy of exploration, I had a rough idea in my head of where they should be so we headed off in the general direction. We reached the first Plaza, nice enough but nothing spectacular, I am not one for aimlessly wandering around just for the hell of it so after taking a couple of photographs I was ready for turning around and just heading back to the van.
Eagle-eyed Shazza came across a Tourist Information Board that indicated that there was a ‘Old Historical’ part of town so of course we had to go and find it, “It might not be much” she said, “But we may as well go and have a look, it would be rude not too !” then she smiled, “Hey, that’s one of my lines, find your own to use” I said and off we went in search of the old part of town. I have often stated in these blogs that you should not judge a book by its cover and once again this place was another one of those books where the outer cover was uninspiring, but well worth opening and leafing through the content. The old town was enclosed within walls but it was not a town that was old and crumbling but one that had been renovated whilst maintaining the characteristics and charm of an old town, a maze of narrow paved and cobbled streets which still gave access to vehicles, at times we had to squeeze ourselves up against walls to allow vehicles to pass, the buildings had been renovated and old dwellings had been modernised to provide residential and retail accommodations, there were courtyards with fountains and small Cafe/Bars that had their tables spread outside to create wind free sun traps, archways off the courtyards gave access to internal squares which were again adorned with buildings that housed Cafe/Bars, small retail gift shops, a music school, and above them fantastic rustic looking apartments with small juliet style balconies, many adorned with pots of colourful shrubs and flowers, there was a fantastic church with large clock tower, a veterinary practice and so very much more. The main town hall was pretty, although compared to other’s we have seen this was not the most ‘grandiose’ we have ever seen, however, all in all it was a very nice experience and we spent a good couple of hours nosing around and through the narrow streets, alleys, archways and squares.
The old town was not a ghost town, we had seen a lot of movement, cars had past us, as had other pedestrians, we had seen some of the residents of the houses stood on their doorsteps talking to people they knew or who had walked passed and exchanged the usual pleasantries with us, some of the Cafe/Bars looked empty but we could hear chatter emanating from within, but it had not been a bustle of activity. We had made the decision to make our way back to the van and hopefully we would find somewhere to get a meal, we were both feeling pretty tired after what had been quite a long day and did not fancy the prospect of preparing and cooking a meal and then clearing up back at the van. We hadn’t got outside of the old town walls when we heard a lot of noise, the sound of lots people chattering, we could hear music, none of this was coming from any of the small Cafe/Bars that we had passed so we headed towards the direction of this unexpected vibrancy. We were very surprised to find one long narrow street that was lined on both sides with shops, it was like the modern-day high street conspiring within the old town and it was busy with shoppers. About half way up there was an archway which led into a very small courtyard, within it was the Santa Clara Convent which had a shop selling cakes and biscuits, we had to take a look, yes it would have been sacrilegious not too !! The goodies for sale were displayed in a cabinet, we made our choice, a tray of twelve apple filled small empanadilla, we rang a bell at the side of two small windows and waited a few moments. I was not sure if this was one of those ‘Silent Order’ of Nuns but I had expected the windows to open and be met by a dour faced old woman adorned in black, for no logical reasoning other than that had always been my image of Nuns, other than that one young very pretty Nun, ‘Maria’, I had seen in the ‘Sound of Music’. Anyway, the windows opened and we were greeted by a very cheerful and youngish looking Nun, youngish meaning probably aged in her late thirty’s rather than, as I had imagined, someone far more senior in years. She greeted us in Spanish, why wouldn’t she ? but then, when she learnt we were from the UK, she immediately switched to speaking very good English. We felt that our ‘Souls’ at least had been redeemed as we walked away clutching our tasty Saintly goodies, but that redemption was to be short-lived as Shazza said after eating one and screwing up her nose, “They would be much nicer with Custard !!” for goodness sake, be off with you my girl and say a dozen Hail Mary’s, I can just about contend with the ‘Dark Forces’ on our travels but I don’t fancy our chances with the wrath of God !!
We walked the full length of the busy shopping street and came out back into the ‘modern’ Zafra, a very lively modern Zafra at that, Siesta was well over by now, it was around 6pm, it was Friday evening and although we could feel the drop in temperature the sun was still shining and was not due to set for another hour. Across the road was a very large Plaza, busy with people, families with children, couples young and old, this town had come out to play.
We noticed that in one corner of the Plaza there was a large Tourist Information Office, Shazza suggested we go in and get a town plan to see if there was anything else we may have missed, unfortunately their was, a very old Church, which the lady behind the counter told us was very special because of this and that…….. Now I am not really that big on visiting churches, I have nothing against them you understand, but to me, once you have seen the inside of one church then they are all very much the same, but Shazza likes them so off we went, again. It meant going back inside the walls of the old town, not to the big central church but right on the opposite side of the town, I was getting tired by now and beginning to feel the cold setting in and my legs were telling me that they had done as much walking as they wanted to do for one day, but we reached our objective, had a walk around the inside and then came out again. I saw several statues of ‘Jesus’ in numerous displays whilst we were inside and not one rebuked us over the ‘Custard’ issue so I think we got away with it, time will tell ?
It felt like a long walk back, I was at a snail’s pace by now, cold, tired and hungry but every Cafe/Bar was still only serving Coffee and Cake or Churros and Chocolate, it was now nearly 7pm but the proper Restaurant type places didn’t open until 8pm and in this town there was no MacDonald’s, Burger King, Dominoes Pizza or any other ‘fast food’ outlet, so we made our way back to the van. We could have thrown a meal together but we were both just too tired so Shazza made us both an Egg and Bacon sandwich, I have never enjoyed a sandwich so much. We were both in bed by 8:30pm and slept peacefully, no excessive external disruptions even though the ‘Aire’ was close to the junctions of two main roads and no boy racers !!
We were not in any rush to get to Santander, the ferry did not sail until 8:30pm and we did not have to report until 7:30pm, according to ‘Snoopy’ we still had a journey time of nine hours, although I knew that we would cut that time down as it was Non-Toll Motorways all the way and this particular route was exceptionally quiet in respect of the volume of traffic. It was pretty damn cold, although not cold enough to have iced up our windows, we did the necessary at the Service Point before getting back on the road and fortunately just a couple of minutes outside of town, before we got back on the Motorway, there was a ‘Repsol’ fuel station, fortunate because although we still had half a tank of fuel, these non-motorway fuel stations were always that bit cheaper so we topped up the tank. The Road trip was pretty uneventful, the roads were quiet of other traffic, as is normal, just the odd car or truck here and there, when we first experienced these quiet traffic free Motorways and Main Roads a few years ago we found it quite spooky but now we enjoy being able to just set the cruise control then sit back and enjoy the changing scenery. The external temperature varied between -3 degrees(c) and +3 degrees(c), but with the sun shining in through the Skylights and Cab windows it was a warm and comfortable drive. One minute we were climbing up into the hills and crossing magnificent viaducts, then we would descend and the scenery changed from the forests of Olive Trees, on either side of the road, to flat agricultural land where we could see for miles and miles. Occasionally we would pass close by little hamlets, villages and towns but mainly the whitewashed townships were viewed at a distance from our raised vantage positions in the van. We made one stop for a coffee at a roadside service station that had a Cafe/Restaurant alongside it, we were quite amazed at how many people were inside, we certainly had not seen that many cars or trucks on the road, I couldn’t help but wonder where they had all come from. We continued to eat through the miles and eventually we could see the snowy peaks of the ‘Picos’ mountain ranges ahead, still many miles away, but it felt like familiar territory to us as we had used ‘Aires’ in these mountains on our first ‘virginal’ trips out here, it brought back many happy memories and we spent lots of time reminiscing about the places we had stayed and the locations we had visited. Then, in what appeared no time at all, we were there, amongst the snow-capped mountains, glorious blue sky, warm sunshine, perfect road conditions and snowy mountains, absolutely stunning !!
I knew, from previous trips along this route, that there was a ‘Shell’ petrol station just 10 miles from the ferry port, I wanted to ensure that I had a full tank of diesel when I entered the UK, not just because it was cheaper over here than the UK, but we would have a long five-hour drive from Portsmouth to Doncaster and I wanted to get that drive done in one go. So after topping up we drove the short distance to the port, we had made good timing arriving at 4pm, we had knocked ninety minutes off the anticipated driving time, which gave us plenty of time to stretch our legs and take a wander around Santander town, which was literally just across the road. So we checked in, got our cabin key cards, parked in the pre-boarding lane we were directed to, locked the van and after taking a brief look out over the harbour entrance we made our way into the town.
When we returned to the van, a couple of hours later, we just settled down and waited to be called forward to board, the end of another Winter break was over, yes we were sad, we are never ready to return but we had something to look forward to on the other side and we were quite excited about getting to our site, but we had a couple of weeks before then, we were going to be busy as we had a lot to do, which I will write about at some point after we get settled into our routines on site, so you will be able to take a break from reading my ramblings for a short while, but for now, thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts and for posting your comments, very much appreciated.