We’d had a very busy and pleasant summer since our return from Iceland and the Faroes in mid July.
The weather had been great, and we’d had several weekends with our vintage caravan. In early August we’d made a flying visit to Sitges to meet our newest granddaughter Rita (3 months old today), and were now planning a return visit, travelling to Geneva to visit Simon & family first.
Paul and Nicky and family will be visiting Tom next weekend. Emma and family had been there in July, when Rita was just a few weeks old.
In August we had a great time at Pippa and David’s wedding and had then enjoyed a few days on the Grand Union Canal with our friends Peter and Dianne, on their narrow boat. More recently we’d been asked to be witnesses at our friends John and Jackie’s wedding.
We’d had hardly a day spare to prepare for our trip, but somehow managed to get things organised, with the garden under control.
We had only booked the ferry at 11.00 pm last night, having phoned Kathryn to make sure that we could stay at their house tonight. We left in the afternoon, having an easy journey to Canterbury, arriving just before 7.00, as Kathryn returned home. Alex (17) and Zoe (12) were both there, Tom arrived later. We had difficulty in recognising the children, particularly Alex, who we haven’t seen for over two years.
Kathryn and Alex
Adrian managed to park on the drive, despite the builders skip which was there (builders putting a room in the roof). Kathryn prepared a nice meal, and we enjoyed much chat, even talking on skype to Joe (at University in Southampton) and to Sharon, before coming out to the Ixi to sleep.
Tom had left for work early, but we had breakfast with Kathryn, before saying our goodbyes.
We made our way to Dover, where we booked in, but had to go and pay the rest of the fare and were given a surprise voucher for 6 bottles of wine! (It seems if you pay less than a week before, they only take a £5 deposit – all to do with Eastern Europeans using dodgy credit cards). Our 10.15 ferry was a little late in leaving, but the crossing was beautifully smooth. We collected our wine – we chose 2 each of red, white and rose, which although not the most expensive, were gratefully received. We still don’t know why we were given them!
We docked at Calais at 1 o’clock French time, making our way to Carrefour first for some fuel. Adrian went into the hypermarket and managed (with difficulty) to buy a baguette. We then had lunch before setting off on the motorway as far as St Quentin. As we have noted before, the scenery looks very pleasant from the motorway, avoiding the dreary journey through the endless towns around Bethune.
The weather was fine, with much sunshine. We turned off to Beautor, having used the book Adrian had bought to find Aires where one could stay in a motorhome. This one was pleasant, with only 3 parking places. It was 6 o’clock when we reached there. Although right beside the canal, the view was stopped by a fence. There were large hanging baskets of red and white geraniums. We immediately set off on a short walk beside the canal, which was sadly out of the sun by now. A large barge passed us. The skipper waved as he passed under the bridge, which just skimmed the top of the boat.
After supper we walked up into the almost silent little town, remembering how we always used to do that on the first night in France with the children.
Wednesday 9th October On through rural France 164 miles
It was a miserable day weatherwise – grey, with rain and drizzle most of the day. There was just a short glimmer of sun at lunchtime.
With our new time, it was 10.00 before we left, stopping first at the little boulangerie in Beator where the cheery lady served us with a baguette and a ‘pain aux chocolat et pistachio’ for later.
We drove south through pretty, wooded country on small roads. We went through the ancient town of St Gobain, and passed a vast abbey complex atPremontre.
We stopped for coffee beside the little canal next to the River Aisne at Vaillysur Aisne. There was a memorial to an American soldier, Robert Whallen, who had died in 1944 during the liberation of Vailly.
We continued through agricultural country, the main crop being sugar beet. There were huge piles of it beside the road, and workers in the fields. Later we drove through the champagne region, where again there were workers in the fields and vehicles everywhere, including groups of caravans for the itinerant pickers.
As so often, we had difficulty in finding anywhere to stop for lunch, finally finding a small pull-off in the woods just after Arlonges.
We continued south through arable land, finding it just as difficult to pull off in the afternoon for our break, and to peruse our onward route. We resorted to stopping at the edge of a field, beside piles of white chalk!
We carried on through more rural country to Chaource, following a diversion for the last few miles as the road was closed. The ‘aire’ here was pleasant, and should have been on a grassy area surrounded by trees, but as the entrance looked a bit too muddy to contemplate, we parked on the tarmac beside it just before 6 o’clock.
After supper we walked up into the almost silent town, enjoying the ancient half- timbered houses and massive old church. It drizzled heavily at the start, meaning that we took our umbrellas.
Thursday 10th October Through hilly country 135 miles
We heard it rain quite a bit in the night, so were pleasantly surprised to wake to sunshine. We were late in leaving again, driving around Chaource first to get a better internet connection in order to receive the photos which Sara had sent of Ambrose’s 4th birthday party. Having done that, we stopped at the boulangerie for a baguette and bun, wondering how we had missed seeing the two bakers shops last night. We walked on to the bank, remembering after getting some money that we already had some back in the van! It felt really chilly. I went to photograph the church and found that my camera wasn’t opening up.
The church at Chaource – and the end of my camera
We drove on south through pretty hilly country. At 11.30 we stopped for coffee at Ancy le France beside a large pond, near a chateau.
We continued through more rolling country, stopping beside the River Serein at Guillon for lunch.
The river Serein at Guillon
The pretty countryside became increasingly hilly as we travelled on. We stopped by the Gorges de la Canche, where the gorge sides were too steep for me! The weather had been much better than we’d expected, but it did rain a few drops now.
It was after 6 o’clock when we reached the Aire at le Creuzot- a town much bigger than we’d have thought. This Aire was high above the town, beside a theme park, but with no views. We walked out to look down over the town from a nearby picnic area, feeling the chill of the air again.
After supper we edited some more of our eastern European diary for the website.
We spoke to Laure on the phone – she told us that it had snowed on the mountains.
Friday 11thOctober A snowy surprise 147 miles
The morning was grey, and it felt really cool for the first time.
We left at about 10 o’clock and wound our way down beside the little tourist railway to the ‘toytown’ of le Creuzot below.
We drove on faster roads this morning, as we want to arrive at Simon & Laure’s today. We were looking out for a boulangerie, and finally found one at the little crossroads village of Lessard en Bresse. We stopped for coffee and part of the large pain aux raisin soon afterwards, just before the large town of Lohans, where we stopped to get fuel. We had thought that there were more pull-offs on main roads, but had found it difficult once again to find anywhere to stop.
We turned onto smaller roads soon after Lohans, driving immediately through the small ‘villefleurie’ of Frontenaud, which was full of amazingly beautiful flower displays. After the pleasantly named town of St Amour, with its appropriately heart shaped signs, we turned on to small winding roads which did nothing for my dizziness! The mistiness masked the nice views when we stopped soon afterwards for lunch.
We now zig-zagged across the Jura Mountains, through the large town of St Claude in its dramatically steep situation. We had seen streams gushing and waterfalls cascading. However, we were surprised to come across snow – and lots of it! The village of Septmoncel looked like a Christmas card!
Unexpected snow in the Jura
We drove on and on through the snowy landscape, finally reaching Col de la Faucille, before the long descent to Gex, and on to Cessy.
We arrived just as Laure was leaving to collect Millie and Manolo from school. I joined her, still feeling giddy from all the winding roads.
We came back for a lovely supper and much chat, coming out to the van at 11 o’clock.
Saturday 12th - Wednesday 16th October
We spent a happy time with Simon and Laure, Manolo & Millie. The highlight was the sponsored charity walk beside Lake Geneva which we all did with Manolo and Millie. We walked 6 kilometres with Millie. Manolo jogged an extra 3 km with Simon. There were hundreds taking part - the balloon send off at the start was memorable. The weather was fine and sunny for this, but we did have quite a lot of rain during the rest of the week.
It was a beautiful morning for us to leave Cessy. We said goodbye to Simon, and then to Manolo and Millie, as they went off to school. In just over 2 months, we will be back for Christmas. We sent out an email to everyone about our website, as we had completed last year’s trip to Eastern Europe, then said goodbye to Laure at 9.15. We found our way to the busy bakers, being served once again by the pleasant black lady, who spoke English.
We set off southwards, through lovely scenery, with the bonus of the autumn tinges of colour, stopping before the motorway for coffee. Then it was onto the motorway – past Lyon which we were glad not to be driving through, as in days of old.
We stopped for lunch after Lyon, then continued south beside the River Rhone, passing some vineyards. On past Montelimar (veritable), where we stopped for a cup of tea. It had become surprisingly windy, although very warm – we had both put on shorts!
AtMornas we passed an 11th century citadel dramatically set on top of the limestone cliffs.
At 5 o’clock we reached the Pont du Gard, and made our way to the right bank. We had stopped here in 1973, and planned a return visit, but were staggered at the entrance fee of 18 euros per car! We didn’t want to see it that much! We returned to the village of Remoulins, where there was an overnight parking place for motorhomes. It was already packed, but we managed to squeeze in.
Having positioned ourselves, we wandered down to the River Gardon, and then up into the village. We had thought it rather plain at first, but then espied the medieval quarter, and revelled in the ancient buildings of yellow stone in the late afternoon sunshine.
Friday 18th October Nearly to Spain 201 miles
It was a fine, mild morning, which became cloudier as the day went on.
We started by driving to the left bank side of Pont du Gard, but as we’d expected, all views of the bridge were obliterated here too by fee paying car parks. We preferred to remain with our (free) memories of 40 years ago!
We drove back to Remoulins, where we had seen that there was a market, with lots of cars parked. We joined them, wandering amongst the market stalls and buying a loaf and some pears. The atmosphere was very convivial.
We headed back towards Avignon, where we had more success than Pont du Gard, in that we could actually see the bridge. It was only partial success though, as Adrian found the difficult road system, the road works and the busy traffic very trying. We could find nowhere for us to park, and whilst I could enjoy seeing the magnificent walls of the city, we just had to keep driving. We would have loved to have walked up into the ancient town.
I had seen vehicles parked across the wide Rhone River, so we made our way there, and enjoyed our tea/coffee and pastry from the market sitting on a bench beside the river, with views of the ‘Pont d’Avignon’ and of the city walls. We were beside a campsite, which must have been the one that we had stayed at in 1972.
By the bridge at Avignon
We had thought that driving back to the motorway beside the river would be fun, but in fact we could see virtually nothing of the river! We managed (not without difficulty) to get both fuel and gas before joining the A9 motorway at Nimes.
After that it was a motorway day. At the first ‘aire’ that we pulled into, the picnic area was closed, so we drove on to the next one for lunch. This was rather arid and rough looking, so didn’t entice us outside. We continued past Montpellier, but by now the weather had become cloudy and grey. We had travelled in this area on small roads in 2006 on our way back from Tom’s in Barcelona, but couldn’t locate anything that we recognised.
At 5 o’clock we turned off the motorway at Perpignan, taking the road inland towards Andorra, as we are meeting up with Tom & Mar tomorrow at a Spanish village in the mountains, near the border. The weather was now mizzling, with bad visibility, so we were glad when, soon after the fast road had ended, we passed a parking area for a dam and a chapel which would make a good overnighter.
Saturday 19th October On to meet up with Tom & Mar in Spain 50 miles
The morning was grey. We set off to walk towards the dam and the chapel, but found that the reservoir was less than half full of water, so not very pretty, and the chapel was way up high on a hill! We didn’t go far! There was a nice view through the wayside fennel of an Italian looking village with pink tiled roofs. We had just been looking at our diary of our trip to Venice in 1986, and could think that we were in Italy, not almost into Spain.
We drove into the nearby village of Vinca, looking for a boulangerie. It was a delightful old French village with a huge ancient church squashed in amongst the houses. We enjoyed wandering around.
We drove across the River Tet to the other side of the valley and drove on small roads to Catllar, which again looked Italian with its pink tiled roofs, but also had Spanish looking balconies.
We soon came to the lovely walled town of Villefranche de Conflent, and to make up for not visiting Avignon yesterday, we had a delightful walk around this atmospheric, nicely touristy ancient town with its numerous shops and cafes. There was a fort way above on the hilltop.
Villefranche de Conflent
As we drove on, we noticed that signs were written in two, sometimes three languages (presumably French, Spanish and Catalan). The sun came out as we stopped to have lunch near Thues, surrounded by the steep gorge like mountainsides. Bright golden autumnal trees added to the splendour.
We could see the railway down in the valley, with a dramatic ‘doubledecker’ viaduct, and then a suspension bridge. (it turned out later that Tom had wanted to buy Adrian a ride on this scenic railway as a birthday present, but it was sadly closed at the moment).
AtSaillagouse we found a place to dump the loo, then soon found ourselves at Bourg Madam(French)/ Puigcerda(Spanish). It was 2.30 when we arrived at the nearby village of Queixans, where we were to meet Tom and Mar. We telephoned Tom, who drove down to meet us and direct us to the house where they are staying. We drove back there (Mar’s dad’s holiday house), where they’d not long arrived themselves.
We meet up with Tom, Mar and Rita
Having greeted Rita (now 3½ months old) and looked over the house, Adrian and Tom drove off to the supermarket to stock up before Adrian positioned the Ixi in the space at the bottom of the garden. We all then had a pleasant walk around the village, with Rita in her pram at first, and later in her carrier before coming back for supper.
Sunday 20th - Monday 21st October
We had a lovely couple of days with Tom, Mar & baby Rita. We all walked into the town of Puigcerda on Sunday and enjoyed a tapas lunch, sitting outside, before walking back. It was lovely to have cuddles with Rita and to see her smiles and ‘conversations’.
A cool night again, then a fine day. We left Tom and Mar at 10.20, having had breakfast together, and a last cuddle with Rita.
We drove back into Puigcerda to shop in Carrefour. We drove on a short way before stopping for lunch at a picnic site amongst the steep hilly countryside. Andorra was to the north and forested Sierra del Cadi to the south. The occasional brightly coloured Autumnal trees looked wonderful amongst the green. We sat outside at a picnic table, where the seat was very low. It was warm but windy.
Lovely autumn colours
We continued along to la Seu de Urgel, where the Segre River which we’d been following turned southwards, and so did we. The river was set in a deep gorge, and the scenery was stunning.
The Segre gorge
We took the small road westwards, climbing in nonstop bends to Collado de Boixols (1380 m). We soon came to the remote mountain village of Boixals, which we drove almost right around before winding on to the non event of Collado de Faidela (1250m). We then came down to the flatter valley of the River NogueraPallaresa.
At 5 o’clock we came to Tremp, where there was an Aire which we’d been heading for. The town was busier with people than anywhere we’d seen. Noticeably there were black and moslem people as well as white. We were able to dump, then, having positioned ourselves, we set off to walk into the rather plain town. We managed to find the old quarter, with narrow streets, and houses squashed into them. A very large church was sandwiched in amongst the houses. We wandered around the outside, but it wasn’t open.
The church at Tremp
It had begun to rain, and by the way people reacted, it hadn’t rained for a long time! We were completely unprepared, so were glad that it didn’t really come to anything.
On the way back we stopped at a phone shop, where we had to wait a long time to be served, while the lady served a young lad and spoke for ages on the phone. Adrian had hoped to get a card to enable us to get better internet connection, but we were out of luck.
We got back to the van at 6.15, and just as I started to write the diary, a helicopter flew low overhead – we had read that we were by the heliport as well as the sports stadium!
We ate a lovely meal including large prawns. It rained during the evening.
Wednesday 23rd October Some gorgeous scenery 140 miles
The night was mild, and we awoke to a very misty morning. We had been discussing whether to go via the mountain roads to Huesca, or through a gorge and then flatter land to Lleida. The mistiness made us decide to do the latter, as we thought that we wouldn’t see much in the hills.
First we spent a long time driving around Tremp hoping to get an internet connection, which was frustratingly unfruitful.
We soon came to the dramatic gorge scenery of the Rio NogueraPallaresa, and as if by magic, the sun broke through, which made it even more wonderful. We stopped beside a restored Roman bridge at Terradetes, with the sheer cliffs towering hundreds of feet above us.
The Rio Noguera Pallaresa gorge at Terradetes
Just a bit further on was a large picnic area, so we pulled in and enjoyed our coffee sitting outside in the magnificent situation. There was a spring here, so we filled a water bottle. Just as we went to leave, a group of climbers arrived and started setting themselves up to climb. The only thing to spoil it was the litter scattered around, despite the adequate number of bins.
As we drove on, we went through some more cloud, but then we had lovely views again. We stopped by Embalse de Camaresa to enjoy and photograph the panorama of the perfectly still water.
Embalse de Camaresa
At the end of the reservoir the road went through two tunnels and over a bridge high above the gorge. We crossed the River Segre and then soon came out of the mountains. The sat nav directed us through the pleasant riverside town of Balaquer, with churches and battlements high above it.
We travelled on towards Lleida now through flattish land, but with nowhere to pull off. We stopped to have lunch in what was probably a parking area for a school, as we wanted to stop before arriving at Lleida.
The castle of Lleida is set dramatically high on a hill, and could be seen as we approached. We found our way up to it using the sat nav, as there were no signs. We managed to find a roadside parking place and walked the long way along the road and then up the many steps to the castle. The outer area was pleasant and interesting, but we had intended visiting the cathedral which is set inside. It was now 1.45, but this being Spain, it was closed for lunch until 3.00pm! We walked around the outside, with views of the pink city far below. It was very hot now, with a clear blue sky.
The castle at LLeida
We now left Lleida (or Lerida as we used to know it) and travelled westwards. At one point we had trouble with the ‘autopista’ (toll motorway), and ‘autovia’ (motor road, no toll). We didn’t want to get on the wrong one, and roads had changed since our (fairly recent) map. We took the autovia, which was very busy, with a lot of lorries. We now left Catalunia. Near Penalba, Adrian photographed a ‘veterano’ bull sign on the hill, remembering our many times of seeing the sign in early days of travelling in Spain (It wouldn’t be allowed in Catalunia – the bull being the symbol of Spain, which Catalunia wishes to leave).
The land was still flattish, and very arid, making us think of some parts of the USA, particularly with the humpy striped hills like the badlands.
We were nearing Zaragoza, which we intend to visit, but not in late afternoon, so we turned off, hoping to find somewhere for the night. This proved more than difficult. We headed first for a Roman museum, miles from anywhere along small roads, thinking that we might stay in the car park. When we reached it we found that it cost 8 Euros each to enter – not what we wanted. We continued on tiny roads near to the Ebro River, but there was absolutely nowhere to stop. We drove for miles, when eventually at 5.30, we spied a rough bit of land at the start of a walking trail near Alborge. We pulled in, and set off on a short walk towards a hermitage.
Off for a walk
The sun was still warm and the sky blue. The river was far below, looking a bit like the Rio Grande. Birds were singing and we saw a bird of prey. The only thing to spoil it was the amount of flies.
Thursday 24th October Some of the marvels of Zaragoza 114 miles
There was a pretty pink sky when we looked out. We enjoyed our isolated situation, and left at 9.30.
Lovely morning sky
We soon drove through the long, narrow village of Sastago, with its houses all joined together, giving a claustrophobic feel. The River Ebro makes long meanders at this point. We crossed it on a fine bridge. There was a shady parking area by the bridge where we could have stayed last night!
We wound upwards, with wonderful views back down (looking even more like Dakota this morning, with its banded hummocks) stopping at a picnic/ viewpoint which again would have made a good stopover!
Just before we reached Escatron we turned off to Monasterio de Ruedo. We wandered around the courtyard of this vast monastery, but didn’t actually find our way inside. There were some Roman ruins in one corner. We were amused at the ‘modern monastery’ of a huge power station, which we looked out to.
Monasterio de Ruedo
We crossed the River Ebro again at Escatron, sitting outside for coffee at a fishing/picnic area with views back to the monastery. This would also have made a good overnighter!
We now drove up onto a plateau. We could see the fertile lands beside the river way below us. The dry orange/beige fields contrasted beautifully with the blue and white of the sky.
AtAzaila we joined the main road to drive north-westwards to Zaragoza. We turned off at Fuentes de Ebro to find a bakers to buy a ‘baguette’. It was now midday, but there was nowhere to stop for lunch, and we needed to stop before Zaragoza. We had missed the one parking area as the sign was too late. We turned on to an unsurfaced ‘camino de service’, but found that this was a service road and not a service station! Just before Zaragoza we turned off in desperation to an industrial estate where we were able to pull on to a rough bit of land for lunch!
We then continued into the large, busy but pleasant city of Zaragoza. The parking was all underground, so no good for us. We drove past the impressively massive Pilar church area, and with no luck in parking, crossed the Ebro River. There was some free parking here, but we didn’t hold out much hope. Luck was with us though, as we did spy a parking spot, and having negotiated almost into it, the adjacent car left, leaving us enough room to park adequately.
We walked back across the bridge, passing the ‘London Eye’ lookalike, and taking numerous photos of the many attractive towers of the church. We found this central area of Zaragoza very appealing, with a very long ‘square’, the plaza del Pilar, flanked by the enormous church and other fine buildings, and with a few Roman ruins thrown in!
Some of the splendours of Zaragoza
We had expected most of the buildings to be closed, as it was afternoon, and we were right. Some didn’t open again until 6.00. The Basilica de noestra signora del Pilar was open though, so we wandered around the very large, dark, catholic church. There was part of the ‘pilar’ exposed, which the devout kiss – we saw someone do just that.
The nearby cathedral was closed, so we walked right around the outside. It was very warm now – one sign said 27°C
We walked back to the van, and now had the difficult task of driving out of the city. We initially drove past the Aljaferia, the moslem edifice which we’d like to have seen. It was set in a park area, with nowhere to stop, so we had to give it a miss.
We drove across the Ebro once again, on a modern bridge known as the millennium bridge. There were a lot of modern buildings, and a cable car. Much had been built for Expo 2008.
Adrian wanted to stop at Carrefour, as he still hoped to get a data card for our new phone so that we can get better internet access, but there was a height barrier, and everything was getting too difficult. We managed to pull onto a (very) rough bit of ground to revive with a cup of tea before continuing out of the city. We stopped to get diesel, then made our way north-westwards before turning off westwards towards Soria.
The only ‘aire’ in this area had a big ‘do not stop here’ notice in our book, so we needed somewhere to stay. We were on quite a main road, so turned off onto a small road through the hills, with small vineyards and olive groves beside the road.
There were hundreds of wind turbines on the hill tops, but at 6 o’clock, when we came to a viewpoint at Balcone el Buste, we had to give in and stop for the night, ignoring the buzz of them. The arid plains spread out below us.
Our meal of whole fresh trout was a bit of a disaster, as when we took it out of the oven, it wasn’t cooked, so we had to resort to the frying pan!
Afterwards we enjoyed looking through the photos and diary of our holiday to Spain in 1985, which brought back many memories.
Friday 25th October Two lovely town visits 69 miles
The whirr of the wind turbines hadn’t really disturbed us – we tried to think of it as the motorway!
The weather was mixed. We didn’t leave until gone 10.30. We’d received an email from Tom to say that Mar’s brother’s baby Noah had been born yesterday.
We wound down to the arid humpy plain and on to Tarazona – a larger town than we’d imagined. We managed to find a car park to park in before setting off on a walk around this delightful town.
Some of the town was set on flat land by the river, but a lot of it was situated on steep ground like a much bigger Clovelly or Robin Hood’s Bay. Every narrow cobbled street which didn’t have steps was liable to have a car driving up it! We were able to link up with a walking trail, so could follow around to lots of ancient churches – we went inside the Iglesia de Maria Magdalena, which we think was really closed, but two vergers were in there, so we had walked in!
The town had influences of Christian, Moslem and Jew. We had views down to the Seo (cathedral) and the former bull ring.
Looking down to the cathedral and former bullring in Tarazona
On the way back, Adrian tried in two phone shops for the card he wanted, but with no luck. Nobody appeared to speak English, so it was hard to explain what he wanted.
We made our way to the massive building of the cathedral, which had had a lot of restoration done, which was still ongoing. Being late morning, it was open so we paid our 3 euros oldies rate and wandered around the dark catholic inside. There was a variety of building styles. I liked the stone screens on the huge windows of the cloisters.
The window screens in the cathedral at Tarazona
We walked back to the car park through the former bull ring and enjoyed a late lunch, with a baguette bought in a small shop in the town.
Now we headed for the town of Soria. It rained just before we got there, but luckily stopped as we walked around, although it was still wet underfoot. We managed to park, but with no map it was difficult to know where to go. The town was very large, but with perseverance we eventually did come to the attractive main square, which was surrounded by interesting buildings. It wasn’t as easy to enjoy as Tarazona had been.
The main square in Soria
We managed to find our way back to the van and then drove down to the River Duero (Duro in Portugal) which we intend following.
Here we had a delightful walk beside the river to Ermita de San Saturio.
A lovely walk beside the River Duero
This was set in rock beside the river. We climbed up on stone steps inside the rock to find numerous small rooms and a large chapel.
Inside Ermita de San Saturio
A wonderful find! We made our way down stone steps to the river and crossed on a bridge to walk back on the other side. The path this side was initially a posh ECC job, busy with walkers, but later we took a rough path by the river and back across little bridges linking small islands. It was obviously a popular place to come, with picnic facilities and children’s play things. The autumn yellow trees looked glorious.
It was now 5.45, so we hot footed it out of Soria on theN122 towards Valladolid.
Half an hour later we pulled into an unsigned parking area for the night.
Saturday 26th October An amazing hilltop village 96 miles
The morning was really dark – tonight the clocks change, as in England, so it will then be different.
It was still very grey when we set off to drive the few miles to Calatanazar. This wonderful hilltown was only a kilometre from the main road, but its joys were hidden until you reached it. We drove down the red gorge and parked at the foot of the village at 9.30. We then walked up into the fabulous walled village, looking as if it was straight out of a children’s story book. At this hour, there were very few people about as we wandered the narrow cobbled streets between the ancient stone, timber and adobe houses. We walked right up to the castle ruins, from where we could look down on to the orange and brown fields below.
There were photo opportunities everywhere, with occasional bright red geraniums in window boxes. Strange conical chimneys rose from the tiled roofs. There were a few ‘casa rurales‘ where people could stay, and by now there were a few people about.
We returned to the Ixi, and walked on to a small stone ‘Ermita’. It was still cool, damp and grey, but we had just loved our visit. Just as we were leaving, a coach had pulled up – there was very little parking, so we had thought the place safe from that. We were glad to have visited early.
We drove on a short way to the pleasant little village of Muriel de la Fuente before returning to the N122.
As we continued westwards, we drove through areas of red soil, looking superb with the yellow and green of the trees.
We turned off to drive through the interesting town of Langa de Duero, where we bought a lunchtime loaf from a lady who spoke a little English – the first assistant had dashed back to get the second one, when she realised that we weren’t Spanish! We had our lunch just before the road reached the main road. We were almost under the viaduct of the road, beside a disused and overgrown railway and a large pile of earth.
Memories of England in the sixties
We drove on to Aranda de Duero , where there was an Aire we could use to dump and get water, both much needed. It was beautifully sunny now, and we could have stayed here. It was close to the town, but there was no attraction for us in the modern, red brick town. It did solve one very important problem for us though, as we managed to get an internet connection. We needed this vitally in order to top up our phone, so that we could use it, and receive emails. This accomplished, we were able to write a few emails. Adrian was still trying to sort out about my camera, which had broken at the start of this trip.
We had hoped to pass a signposted supermarket as we drove on, but without luck, we continued westwards through rich agricultural land near the River Duero, with many vineyards.
We planned to turn off the N122 at Penafiel and take a smaller road towards Valladolid. We hadn’t expected to see a fairytale castle set on a hill above the town. We decided to drive through the town before turning off, and in doing so, passed a supermarket, which we’d given off hope of finding today.
Now quite late, we turned off onto the side road, and almost immediately spotted a large area of trees and paths, which looked like an ideal place to stop. It seemed to be in an area which had seen better days, and all looked a bit desolate, contrasting with the affluence we had seen. We walked out, looking up to the castle from a once again disused railway complete with water towers.
More old memories
After supper we started working on our website of Spain.
Sunday 27th October Frustrations and delights in Valladolid 43 miles
The night felt cold, and the morning seemed dark, despite the change of hour. The sky was blue though, and we enjoyed our lovely situation amongst the trees, like our own private campsite. We left just after the new time of 9 o’clock.
We drove back intoPenafiel hoping to see more of the old town, with supposedly a wonderful ‘plaza mayor’, which had been the inspiration for others. Even though there were very few people about, driving through the narrow streets was a challenge, particularly with the balconies jutting out. The road we wanted to take over the bridge was closed, entailing Adrian reversing, so we gave up and sufficed with a last view of the wonderful castle, and the pretty view beside the river with its grass and trees.
Fairytale Penafiel castle
We crossed the River Duero on an ancient, partly restored bridge and followed a rural road through many Spanish villages to Valladolid. We passed numerous ‘bodegas’ (wine places). Vines covered all the slopes, and other crops grew in the fertile flatter land. At one point the mist came up, but then it was back to sunshine. Adrian had one last go at trying to get a new phone card at Carrefour, but after a difficult drive around and finding the way into the car park, discovered that it was closed today (in Puigcerda Carrefour was open on Sunday).
That was enough frustration, but then we drove into the busy town of Valladolid, and despite the nice buildings, Adrian found it really stressful trying to follow the way. There was an ‘aire’ here, and in the end we did find it. We had difficulty in knowing how far out of town it was, but decided to walk in. The aire was situated in a car park, and our book wasn’t sure whether motorhomes had to pay, but we discovered a sign saying that it was free on Sundays anyway, so that was good!
We walked out and across the River Pisuerga, which joins with the Duero just south of Valladolid. The weather was fine, but quite cool (15°C). We had taken the map from Lonely Planet, but hadn’t got on to it yet, and when we did, found it difficult to follow.
We passed the immense Benito Church, the first of many we saw today. We went inside – mass was being said, but I do like the fact that people can just wander in and out of a Catholic Church, which we did many times today. The pillars outside this church were octagonal, and it certainly looked different.
Benito church, Valladolid
As we were not going to be back to the van for lunch, we thought that we’d buy a sandwich. We saw a little place and ordered one tuna and one veggie baguette from the flamenco looking assistant. However, she couldn’t do the veggie one, so we just settled on the tuna. We shared it later, sitting on a stone step in the Plaza Mayor and it was delicious, although I’m not that fond of tuna.
We passed Iglesia de la Pasion where there was an exhibition of Gaudi’s work, so had a quick look inside. Continuing on, we found ourselves in Plaza de Zorilla, which wasn’t where we wanted to be at all! It was a lovely area with an impressive building Acadamia de Caballeria, and the appealing Campo Grande parkland. However, it was a long way from any of the sights that we wanted to see. We had thought that we might get to one or two museums before they shut at 2.00 pm – and most are free on Sunday.
On making our way in the right direction, we saw some attractive gardens, and realised that this was Cervante’s House. We hadn’t particularly wanted to visit, but thought we’d try, as it appeared to be free today. Yes, it was – but – a group had arrived just as we did, and the lady said that we would have to wait 15-20 minutes! We didn’t want to see it that much! The wonderful thing was though, Adrian picked up a much better map of the town there, and now he was happy again!!
We continued wandering the streets, enjoying all the smaller pedestrian roads when we could. At Plaza Espana one of several street musicians was playing the trumpet superbly - it was really evocative. We continued past churches galore, including the massive, bare cathedral with its ornate altarpiece. Almost next door was more appealing iglesia de Santa Maria la Antigua. The small shops were all closed, but we peered through the windows at a display of hats like we might have seen as a child, and a selection of Beatles memorabilia as well as select children’s clothes.
Anyone for a hat?
Many of the houses were adorned with attractive balconies. Everywhere looked well cared for – we had seen workers sweeping the paths earlier.
We made our way back to the van, enjoying a welcome cup of tea and some refreshment. We had decided to stay here tonight.
Monday 28th October Two nice ‘T’ towns 98 miles
The night was cold but the traffic hadn’t been noisy.
We headed for the town of Tordesillas, where in 1494 the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Fernando had made a Treaty with Portugal deciding which country would own the countries of South America (Brazil to Portugal and the rest to Spain).
We were able to park in a side street and wander through the little crumbling streets. Being Monday, all the churches and museums were closed, as we knew. It was cool and damp as we walked around, and didn’t improve all day. The attractive main square was all in yellow ochre. We came to yet another enormous stone and brick church. The thing that stuck in our minds though was what would appear to be a former hospital, with a bell tower complete with stork’s nest (as the cathedral in Tarazona had). We peered through the walls to see a decrepit area overgrown and derelict, looking as though it belonged to Miss Haversham!
Is Miss Haversham here?
We now followed the old N122 to Toro. The new autovia ran parallel, but there was hardly any traffic on either.
Just as we reached Toro (twinned with Condom in France!), we stopped to get some butter – we had completely run out. We tried Aldi first, but they only had unsalted, and Adrian does like his salted butter. Almost next door was a ‘Maxi Dia’, and here Adrian was delighted to buy some salted butter! We parked a bit further on and had lunch.
We walked into the old town through a stone arch. There were a delightful number of ancient houses, some restored, some not. We came to the main church - Santa Maria la Mayor - another massive affair, but of course closed today. It was set way above the Duero River. We looked down over the plains. An attractive bridge, Roman in origin, spanned the river.
Back at the van, we took a country road to Salamanca, which we want to visit. We had hoped that we might find somewhere on the way to stop for the night, but we were driving through farming land, with an English feel, and there was nowhere to even pull in. The weather too was rather English – the mizzle turned to rain. We stopped on the outskirts of Salamanca, hoping to get an internet connection and to find a laundrette, but had no luck with either. Hence we drove on through Salamanca to an ‘aire’ 7 miles south. It hadn’t helped that the road we wanted through Salamanca was closed!
We arrived at El Encinar at 5 o’clock. It was a large, empty parking area opposite the sports ground. The town consisted of numerous unattractive blocks of flats, and nothing else! Workers had been laying speed humps, and were just completing the one by the aire! There was an area of grass and trees behind us, but we were still surprised by the number of locals who appeared to use this as their noisy evening stroll.
Tuesday 29th October Two more lovely historic centres 75 miles
It was the coldest night yet – it even looked like frost on the grass – but it was only heavy dew. There was a clear blue sky, but the day felt chilly, particularly out of the sun – 13°C in the afternoon. We left at 9.15, having amused ourselves watching the cars drive ‘oh so slowly’ over the new topes.
As we drove back to Salamanca, the skyline of the two cathedrals was glorious. Parking was impossible for us, as it was mostly underground, and all the roadside parking was full.
Having thought that we might have to give up, we did find a spot to park beside the road, but didn’t know how far out it was – our Lonely Planet map didn’t go that far!
Luckily it wasn’t too far. We followed our noses and finally came to the Plaza Mayor, said to be one of the loveliest in Spain. It was a large square, surrounded by fine buildings, but was spoilt for us by a whole lot of temporary buildings – maybe for an event – and the cars. In fact it was the amount of traffic that stopped us from enjoying the town as much as we’d have liked. Lorries seemed to be delivering, and cars just driving. Like St Mark’s Square in Venice, there was restaurant seating all around the main square, but few takers at this hour. The tourist information was here, and we were able to pick up a larger map, and could see where we had parked, which was helpful.
Plaza Mayor, Salamanca
We made our way to the cathedrals (new and old). Adrian had seen that it was free entry on Tuesday until 12.00, so we got something right! The new cathedral (late Gothic) was absolutely massive. We couldn’t help but marvel at the intricate work on the high ceilings. The old cathedral led off from the new one, so the whole area was immense. There were dozens of chapels off both. The old cathedral had a colourful altar piece and pleasant cloisters.
Salamanca cathedral – ceiling in the ‘new’ and altarpiece in the ‘old’
When we came out, I needed something to warm me. I spied a little ‘hole in the wall’ cafe, with just two stools. The genial owner served us with tea and coffee and a maple pastry, which just did the job!
Warming up with a coffee
Impressive buildings were everywhere. The carving around the door of Convent Esteban (which we realised for the first time meant Stephen) was amazing, like an intricate wedding cake of old. There were lovely views back to the cathedral from here.
Intricate carving on Convent Esteban
We made our way back to the van through a pleasant park area and enjoyed our lunch, eating a loaf bought from a nice young chap in a shop really selling ’jamon’ , which is so popular here.
We now took the road north to Zamora, noticing a lot of ‘camino de Santiago’ signs beside the road initially. We took the new autovia, which again had the old road running parallel to it, both pretty empty.
We drove through the rather nondescript outer city of Zamora, coming to a delightful view across the Duero River to the walled town above. We crossed the river on a new bridge, not on our maps or the sat-nav, and drove into the town, and amazingly found a place to park beside the road just beneath the walls.
We climbed the steps and looked down to a wonderful view of the Duero, with an ancient bridge far below. It was very quiet at this time, with virtually no pedestrians or vehicles.
Ancient bridge over the Duero at Zamora
We really enjoyed wandering around. There were vistas everywhere. We knew that nothing would be open. The castle (free) was closed from 2.00 pm until 7.00 pm! We will never get on with Spanish time! The tourist information was closed – we photographed the map on the door.
Adrian enjoying Zamora
We made our way to the Plaza Mayor, which seemed to be a parking place for police cars! As we walked back, we saw a map of the churches in the old town – there were 20!
Back at the van, we perused our onward route over a cup of tea. At 5 o’clock we left to drive towards Miranda, on the Portuguese side of the border. We turned off the N122 at Muelasdel Pan. We soon crossed the half empty reservoir, where there was a hydroelectric plant. Electricity pylons were everywhere.
Just after the village of Vilalcampo we pulled in for the night at a scenic picnic spot above the River Duero – we just had to ignore the pylons.