Battered, bruised, down, but not out

Well I think that goes down as the most unusual Boxing Day I’ve ever spent. I woke after fitful sleep. I can’t lie on my left side because my shoulder hurts – it took a bang when I fell back from the wardrobe. I can’t lie on my right side as my swollen right eye hurts so I have to try sleeping on my back and have been advised to keep my head elevated by at least two pillows. I feel like I’ve been laid out in the coffin already but in my birthday suit not my best suit.  And I have to get clothes past the culprits before I can go – that’s top brass I can tell you.
884C9FD7-FA38-474C-8645-FCCC2C72CCEBHowever the hospital Hospital Puerto del Mar want me to report at 09:30 so off I set in a taxi the hotel has kindly called after my profuse apologies for their disturbed night of gore and mayhem. I had to take a taxi because from the interior of an ambulance I had no idea where we had gone and when I came out I got straight into a taxi back to the now calm hotel without really being very aware of my route or surroundings.

I report to Triage 1 and a ticket is printed out for me along with a page of sticky labels with my name, date of birth, admission number and cause of admission ‘Caida’ – fall. I wait for about 15 minutes before being called into Trauma 1 to explain to a doctor exactly what had happened. Well I knew sock, calcetin, take off, quitar, caida, fall, armorio, wardrobe and manija, handle. So I manage to concoct a narrative after which he nods sagely and sits me down to examine the cuts and stitches which he approves, does a name and number, day of the week, address in Spain etc as a concussion test and says he’d like a face specialist to check me over to see if the stitches will suffice or whether I need plastic surgery. Back to the waiting room for rather longer this time. Just like English hospitals there are too many people for the seats available and the one unisex loo is out of service. So I stand patiently, glad I’d had the foresight to bring my Kindle on which I was reading Kamila Shamsie’s excellent Burnt Shadows which combines Japan with India and Pakistan in a timely, tense tale.

A lady in blue with a face mask comes by and somehow I know she’s my face doctor. She must have seen a few others and then after a while she calls me into Trauma 2 and checks my eyesight with torch and fingers to count – no double vision and I’m glad that’s an index finger you’re holding up. She declares that the sutures will do the job and that no plastic surgery is required but they do want me to go to x-ray to check that no bones were broken – I think I would have known. So back to stand in a corridor outside the radiography room until my name is called. Eventually I enter and two young rather giggly radiographers are keen to know how to pronounce my unusual nombre. They try Raggett for size a few times and I tell them they’ve got it. A quick dose of rays and then back to the waiting area. The original doctor sees me again and tells me a nurse will give me a tetanus jab and dress the corner of my brow which persists in bleeding (sangrando) adding another verb participle to my vocabulary. He also said I should go to my Primary Care Centre in three days (it’ll be Monday at my surgery which will be the fifth day so maybe the stitches can come out too which he suggested should be in a week). The nurse then stings me horribly trying to clean up the mess a bit more and applies a big cotton pad with tape over my eye to stop the bleeding. Then I’m told I’m free to go and thank them all profusely for what has been excellent attention to a stupid accident. The worst part of it is that I had discarded a previous pair of freebie Bam socks because they kept slipping on my wood floors. Total idiot. Also I once heard a radio show a while back in which the presenters were discussing how sitting down to put socks on and off was a sign of old age. From now on I’m old.

I need a pharmacy and a loo by now so I walk away from the Emergency Department where I note I’ve been for just on three hours so I stride off towards what I believe to be the main Avenida Juan Carlos II that runs north-south through the new part of the city. It is and I find a pastry shop with coffee and churros so I set into those, recalling from goodness knows where that after a shock it was good to eat or drink something sweet. Well I’m not putting sugar in my coffee but a sugar coated churro will do the job. It also of course has a loo. Refreshed and emboldened I decide to catch a bus back up to the old city and my hotel. It worked fine with a one euro ten cents flat fare and there’s a pharmacy opposite the hotel so I get my prescription filled but have to repeat my now more fluent tale of Christmas Night. Jokes about amateur bullfighting and what the other guy looks like happen in Spanish too but armed with amoxicillin I go back to my now spotless room. I take pills and then a kind of, I suppose, post-shock lethargy sets in. I did of course sleep very little during the night and sit in an armchair and drift off a bit. Then alert again and turning on iPad mini to watch the footie later, I realise that what I’d written about Christmas Eve and Day had not saved properly so I had to recreate all that whereupon several photos duplicated themselves. Foreign internet, weird WordPress or just DRD – defective Raggett digits I’ll never know.

I feel I ought to go out and grab some lunch before it’s time for Prime to watch Watford at Sheffield United – my Blades-supporting nephew has wished us Happy Christmas and more wins but not today. But by the time I’ve thought about where or what it’s too late so I settle down to see the excitement of a lead unfold followed by a stupid penalty for their equaliser. So that’s draws home and away but at least this one had a proper goal and we’re off the bottom of the table. The later Leicester v Liverpool match is much more exciting and after that I decide that fasting will do me no harm and retire again for a disturbed but better sleep.

Friday morning sees me shower (avoiding getting stitches wet) pack and take my bags to the car. I then go for breakfast in the Plaza Espana and realise that my decision to visit the chapel with the Goyas before driving back to Malaga was muddled with 24 hours clock confusion – my flight is at 4.25 not the 6.25 in my head. However I can still make it easily albeit it not by the fully scenic route intended. But it gives my time to admire a few more of the fabulous buildings and squares of Cadiz  – just why is it only men taking breakfast? – and amble through its cobbled streets to find that the Oratorio is open.

I go up to the chapel in which there are five frescoes around the ceiling, three by Goya although from the distance and the lighting you’d be hard pressed to tell it if you’d just happened to wander in in ignorance. Still it had been on the tick list.

Back one last time to the car park – huge so I always wrote my bay number on the ticket – set up TomTom for the car rental place and off I go. While we had previously gone all along the coast down to Tarifa to look across at Africa and then along past Gibraltar, today’s faster route went diagonally across Cadiz province giving me only a fleeting view of Gibraltar – It’ll be interesting to see what happens about that in the next few years. Then it was along through celeb/gangster country Estepona, Puerto Banus, Mijas, Fuengirola, Marbella, and on to Malaga. They are amused to see that the car has no damage, just me, so my tale is told again with winces and sympathetic handshakes before a shuttle bus whisks me into a surprisingly quiet Malaga airport. I’m quickly through security and off to the Sala VIP lounge thanks to my subscription to Priority Pass. It’s also nearly empty and I catch up on emails and messages before heading to the gate.

E6CC61F6-91DC-49F3-A7D6-51E11188EC4B As is the new norm with Ryanair the Priority Q is longer than the paupers’. But in, I think, a first for me we board through an airbridge not by walking across the tarmac and climbing steps. The captain urges people to stow their stuff quickly as we can actually make our 16:25 take off slot if they get a move on – since we’d seen him and the cabin crew walk past us twenty minutes earlier maybe they could have got the plane loading sooner. However we’re in the air on time and I can construct the last blog from this excellent but eventful Iberian adventure. Obviously I’ll have to post it later when there’s some wifi – probably back home. Where I now am.

Well after a perfect journey back as far as my car at Stansted after which I endured a thirty minute hold up for an accident on the A12 and then a diversion for a burst water main close to home in Kidbroke. Is that an omen?

Nochebuena, Dia bueno y Noche terrible

As I said yesterday, I had plans for Christmas Eve and none for Christmas Day. Plan one was to visit the market where I remembered the usual bright stalls of fruit and veg, hams and cheeses and especially here fish. (Tick 1) img_3965

Plan two  was to find a little cafe for breakfast that Dee and I had frequented on previous visits. (Tick 2) I have an orange juice, coffee and bread with ham and tomato in Plaza Mentidero, a pleasant square where many others were starting the day in similar fashion. From there I walk through the Parque Genoves along the side of the bay of Cadiz and make my way to the location of Plan three the Oratorio of the Holy Cave which has three large Goya frescos – some of his very rare religious works. (Cross 1) Today counts as a holiday and so it’s closed. I’ll try to catch it before I leave on Friday. So I next get the car from the car park and head for Medina Sidonia one of the white towns I’d heard about but not visited. I saw too much of the suburbs of Chiclana de la Frontera on the way but did fill up with petrol before catching site of the impressive town, thought to be the oldest town in Europe.

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I wind my way up to it (Tick 3) and find a buzzing square and lots of very steep streets (I’m beginning to share my late friend Toddy’s dislike for ‘up’) but persevere and am rewarded with a fine church but also a view back towards Cadiz in which you just see the elegant suspension bridge that carries the road in the city.

I walk back down to the plaza and take a beer and some tapas as a band of hairy rockers are entertaining people in the Plaza. They are joined by a lively young lady fiddler and are not bad at all, but when they start in on Jingle Bell Rock, I know that’s my cue to move on.img_3997

I retrieve my car and head off towards Jerez de la Frontera, somewhat staggered by the vast numbers of wind turbines everywhere and being sorely tempted on the way by another white town Arcos de la Frontera perched on its sandstone ridge – there’ll be more up so I park that one for next time.

We visited Jerez several years ago and enjoyed a bodega visit so I thought I’d go back and see how it was now. Apart from additional suburban sprawl – does anyone need that many DIY warehouses? – the centre looked familiar and the Parking Mercado Central displayed a green LIBRE sign so I though (Tick – lucky day). However after luring me down the ramp, the ticket machine pronounced COMPLETO and I had to wait for two cars to leave before I could slip in. I headed off towards the alcazar and the patio in front of it which are still there and sherry producers are in every corner (there’s a Gonzalez before the Byas hidden by the tree).

 

As indeed are oranges, literally falling from the trees and as we’re in Cadiz province not far from Seville a chap’s mind starts to think marmalade in a couple of months time. What a chap’s mind had forgotten from previous visits is that nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is the big day when everything closes at six thirty so that friends and families can all gather for the big meal. But before they go home they go mad – well in Jerez anyway. The streets were nigh on impassable with revellers carrying bottles of sherry, wine and brandy as they walked. At every corner bar was an impromptu song and dance fest. In the lower picture the guy in blue is encouraging us all to join in and sing. I did manage to get a beer before heading back to Cadiz.

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I think there had been a similar walkabout in Cadiz too as many families were making their way homewards. The only restaurant near me that was open was offering only a special 65 euro seven course menu which would have been completely wasted given my aged lack of appetite. So it was crisps, nuts and wine and thank you for the lunchtime tapas.

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear and I thought I’d walk along the Atlantic promenade as we had rarely gone this far south on previous visits. I started out just after nine and it was a fine walk with surfers making some progress, far too many dog walkers and my planned breakfast having to wait until 11:30 by which time I’d walked down the entire promenade, into the dunes and back up the beach before the Blue Dolphin came to my rescue. This was after eight kilometres so I was peckish by now.

As I walked along the beach I saw these goal posts and wondered if I should suggest that we paint ours yellow at the Vic as it might give our ‘strikers’ a clearer target to aim at.

6CFA4D38-5997-41E2-AC85-4388F6F4D411I then headed inland and walked up through the main thoroughfare past the football stadium – unimpressive, , a beautiful brick and stone tobacco warehouse and through the park of the five continents – except we know there are seven now don’t we?

When I get back to the main square my feet are beginning to ache a bit despite my present to myself – new socks. They were a freebie from a company called Bam who make clothes from bamboo and send out trial sets to wheedle you in to subscribing, so I thought I’d bring them with me and give them an outing. Most places are open again for Christmas Day and I have soup, bread and olives for lunch in front of the Cathedral with a fine glass of Albariño. I can’t believe I’m sitting in the sun at 23 degrees on Christmas Day. Then I head off to check that the Cafe Royalty is open this evening – it is until 11.00 so I book for eight thirty and come back to change into a shirt, jacket and trousers rather than jeans and tee shirt of the marathon morning’s march.

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The elegant interior of our favourite Cafe Royalty a real blast from the past and the food’s good too.

On my way back it’s all looking very Christmassy and it’s been a very fine day so far.
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Then disaster strikes. As I prepare for bed feeling quite sleepy after my day’s exertions, my new Christmas socks prove very slippy on the marble floor and I career across the room to head butt the wardrobe which has severely pointy brass handles. The room immediately looks like a set from a horror movie and as I ring for help, blood drips everywhere – big tip on leaving for wonderful night staff – who arranged an ambulance and I returned from hospital about three am looking like this – appropriate for Boxing Day! Thanks to my EHI 111 card all this attention is provided professionally and complete free – no falling over next year then. Thanks Johnson.

I had to go back this morning for x-rays, anti-tetanus, a course of antibiotics and a new dressing. I’m a bit tired (but not emotional, I promise!) and am thankfully back in time to watch us not quite beat Sheffield United, well at least we didn’t lose.

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The ghoul of Christmas present

I’ll take the high road

This is my last morning in Malaga and I’m pleased to report that the Paradores have stopped using individual shampoo and body wash bottles that we all used to steal but now have refillable dispensers in the shower. They’ve always asked you to hang your towels on a hook if you’re happy to use them again so ecology is making inroads.

As it is again another lovely blue day and I got my sea fix yesterday, I ask TomTom to take me to Cadiz avoiding motorways and toll roads. As I love driving, the Seat Ibiza is quite an easy drive and time is entirely my own today, I accept the cross country route offered. I’ve done the drive from Cadiz back to Malaga via the coast – and will enjoy the views of Gibraltar and Algeciras on Friday on my way back. So I navigate the Malaga suburbs and then find myself on route A366. What is it about Routes with 66? This one soon enters the Sierra de las Nieves – it means snowy mountains so that’s a bit of a giveaway. The first pass is at 890 metres which is quite high. But we then do switchbacks and hairpins up to Puerto del Viento at 1190 which really is a long way up.

Daisy Scott once told me off for taking photos while driving so I parked up safely to show the delights of route 366. The window was open for the wonderful fresh air with occasional scents of pine and jasmine and the sounds of sheep and goats traversing the hillsides. Happy man. The road then brought me up with a jolt. Many years ago I booked a ten day stay in a lovely villa with its own pool in the village of El Gastor. Here it was.

Only problem which I discovered after we’d arrived – nice house, private pool, walk to the bar – was that is was in the Sierra de Grazalema, the wettest part of Spain. The onshore wind brings water in from the Atlantic, hits the first mountain range, these, and it rains. All the time – greener than Galicia! At least it was warm so using the pool in the rain was quite fun, but it has to go down as one of my less good bookings and because Dee was very busy at the time, entirely my fault. So I shudder a little and drive by and then in a very few kilometres find myself on on what must have been the Roman road from Sevilla to Cadiz. The dramatic landscape change to fertile rolling hills is amazing – what a country of variety this is.

I stop off for lunch and a shoulder relax after all that active driving and it’s a straight run into Cadiz where I find myself in the wrong lane opposite the Parking recommended by the hotel. Kind gaditanos let me cross and descend into the car park thanks to some indicating and gesticulating on my part.

The hotel is a converted convent and my fears of being in a cell-sized room were dispelled. I was also pleased that while every room was named for a Saint then at least mine had a connection with wine. She was an abbess who live in Tuscany from 1268 – 1317 and was canonized in 1726 after performing several miracles.

It’s further south than we’ve previously been in Cadiz so there’s a an interesting area to discover but it’s such a compact city that I can quickly get to see the cathedral in wonderful warm light and then head to the seafront to look at the setting sun.


and then walk through the ancient centre to find more excellent Christmas lights and a skating rink in the main square. I ate tonight in one of the city’s most famous restaurants El Faro where we’d been before and have plans for tomorrow.

Buenos noches!

Farewell 2015 in Valencia

Christmas lunchAfter spending an excellent Christmas with Dee’s sister and brother in law in Sucina down the coast in the province of Murcia with Christmas lunch in Santiago de la Ribera and a Boxing Day excursion to Cabo Palos and Cartagena, we set off for Valencia for the week until the New Year. Given last year’s experience in Cadiz we left the car back at the airport and took their shuttle bus to the excellent boutique hotel Hospes Palau de Mar which is in two converted merchant buildings not far from the old city and the Turia Gardens, the 9 km super-park that semicircles Valencia in the former bed of the diverted river Turia.

IMG_1486 IMG_1487We were too early to check in so left our luggage and set off for a Sunday flea market held behind the Mestalla – Valencia Football Club’s stadium where we went to see a match back in 2006. Sadly by the time we made it, the majority of stalls had packed up and gone. So it was time to find somewhere for lunch and console ourselves that if we had found anything interesting it would have probably been difficult to get it back home. After going back to the hotel and establishing ourselves in our room we walked off to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento where an ice rink was installed and fun was being had by all amid bright white light decorations on all the buildings around it. We found a lovely little family bar Jamon del Medio just along from the hotel so we dined there and only had a short stagger back to the hotel.

Next morning we took the open top bus tour around the old town, down past the fabulous City of Arts and Sciences, Oceanografic aquarium complex to Las Arenas beach and the Marina where we got off to explore.

IMG_1536The wide sandy beach is fringed by a promenade with at least a hundred restaurants all promising the authentic Valencian paella – well this is the home of the dish after all.The surrounding area also has some interesting old buildings including beautiful wrought iron warehouses and the old Custom House with its tall clock tower. There are also lots of signs of the Americas Cup which was based here in 2010 and of the Grand Prix de Europa which was held here from 2018-2012. It was a bit early for paella so after a coffee we jumped back on the tour bus and headed back into the old town. P1010742There’s lots to explore here to with the modernist North Station and the Central Market with lots of local iconography and products. We were going to go to the Fine Arts Museum but of course it was closed on a Monday so plan B was back to the hotel to chill and read before a further evening explore of the centre. It took us to what was to be a breakfast gem for the next three days – the Café Agricultura which is part of the HQ building of the Royal Valencia Society for Agriculture and Sport. We entered a nice-looking cafeteria for an aperitif and idly picked up the menu which did a simple breakfast which was great value. Only when we ventured to the loo did we notice that the cafeteria led to a massive entrance hall with a monumental staircase and apparently, lots of meeting rooms and full scale dining areas. They also run the young farmers’ clubs and bridge and chess clubs along with influencing agricultural policy in the region.

After juice, coffee and croissants there next morning we picked out an interesting-sounding place from the guide book – the Casa-Museo Jose Benlliure. Now he was a painter I confess to being unaware of but the exhibition occupies his former home in which his garden studio was left much as when he last used it. Cluttered with inspirational eclectica he’d gathered during the many years up to his death aged 79 in 1937. The paintings were OK but the place and the process were fascinating especially to my newly-developed watercolourist companion.P1010788P1010787

We walked from his house along the Turia Gardens to La Lonja one of Valencia’s must-see buildings. It was the silk traders’ exchange and the building was started in 1492 – what a busy year that was in Spain what with Columbus setting off from La Rabida. We had no idea that Valencia had loads of mulberry trees and a thriving silk industry way back then but the gothic building with its barley twist columns echoing the palm trees that abound in the city and ceiling bosses like bundles of silk is clearly very important as it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Nearby a group of women lace makers proved that fabric crafts are still alive in the city.

The cathedral is close by but we’d done enough sightseeing for one day but maybe tomorrow, who knows? We did in fact go back there after lunch which was in the Taberna Vintara in Plaza de la Reina which was most amusing with some interesting staff and customers. While walking about we spotted some wall graffiti Banksy-style but always of cats. A short Google revealed these to be the work of Valencian street artist Julia Lool and very amusing they are too (her blog does have English translation).

The cathedral is an enormous building constructed at various times since the thirteenth century. It has gothic, baroque and romanesque elements, a couple of Goya paintings and an octagonal tower, St Michael’s appropriately, that apparently gives great views over the city – we decided against climbing its 200+ steps. Most importantly for Wagner fans, it is home to the Holy Grail. In a chapel is a brown agate chalice said to be the one used by Christ at the Last Supper. It’s disputed by the Vatican but revered by the locals and has been used by visiting popes to celebrate mass.

 

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You can’t be in Valencia and not spend some time in the City of Arts and Sciences designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Sadly there was nothing of interest on at the Opera but the Science Museum had a brilliant range of interactive exhibits which help you to understand some complex scientific concepts by walking through them, touching things and experiencing their reactions. Another exhibit looks at materials and things that are made from them with an emphasis on furniture and domestic items. A real fun couple of hours and a good café to rest afterwards. I was never very good at time keeping and the human sundial outside was baffling.

We then moved on to the Oceanografic, deemed the best aquarium in Spain. It may well be but its pungent smelling underground caverns soon drove us out so we missed the fish but caught a dolphin display in the pool and saw some amazing scarlet ibis in the aviary

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Then it was time to go to the beach in quest of the perfect paella. Whether perfect or not it’s too soon to judge but we had a very good one at La Perla but it is impossible to choose from the jostling menu thrusters touting for your euros. A gentle digestive stroll along the beach followed in wonderfully blue skies and warm weather for the end of December.

IMG_1548IMG_1554That evening we heard a great commotion outside the bar near the hotel we were in and went outside to find the streets filled with hundreds of people in fancy dress running along. We went with them following the sound of some insistent drums to the Plaza de la Reina where we discovered this was the finish of an annual charity 5km run that’s held on30 December every year. The San Silvestre run has been going since 1983 and attracted an estimated 15000 to 18000 runners of all ages. As with so many events like this there are some serious runners but many are in fancy dress and there to end the year with a bit of fun.

New Year’s Eve was our final night in Valencia and we started it with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts we couldn’t do earlier in the week. It has some very fine exhibits with several paintings by Velazquez, Ribera, Murillo and Goya and lots by Jaoquin Sorolla who we didn’t know very well but was a good friend of John Singer Sargent and exhibited with him a few times. There were some very fine portraits and ‘plein air’ works as he espoused the vogue for painting directly in nature in the open air not in a studio.

Veronica of the Virgin WSFlamenco Dancer - Mariano Benlliure sculptorDee was very taken by this early fifteenth century Virgin by the Valencian artist Peris Sarria. There were also lots of sculptures, including this flamenco dancer, by Mariano Benlliure the brother of Jose who’s house we seen earlier. Their father and another brother were also painters so there was quite a dynasty of artistic Benlliures about which we had previously known nothing at all. Cultured out, we had a coffee at the museum and a stroll back to the Plaza de la Reina for another light lunch as we had booked the special New Year dinner at the hotel. This proved a riotous affair with silly hats, whistles and streamers and much jollity among the staff as well – many of them were international catering students drafted in for a big party by the hotel. It was a fine way to see in the new year.

Calm, Columbus and Cadiz

With final programme and DVD masters delivered to the client in every conceivable version  and the final invoice sent on 28 September we were finally free to go for a real rest. This really was going to be a restorative break with minimal travel – nine days in the parador at Mazagon and five at the one in Cadiz. We flew to Faro and got an airport shuttle bus to take us into Huelva to pick up a hire car so as to avoid the horrendous extras they charge for crossing borders in a rental car. Mistake! The bus dropped people off at lots of villa and resort locations on the way to the border so it took for ever. And who had forgotten that Portugal chooses to be in a different time zone than Spain? So by the time we reach Huelva it’s past one-thirty and the Avis office is now closed till four. So with me wrangling three pieces of luggage and Dee only managing one because of needing her stick we found literally the nearest bar-restaurant and had a lengthy lunch. Avis did sympathise and upgraded us to a large automatic Skoda which drove very well. It’s only half an hour to Mazagon so we arrived in good time to suss out the parador and enjoy our suite. P1010327P1010331We had decided to go for a suite as we were there for such an unusually long stay and it was a decision well made – it was huge with a living room, bedroom, massive bathroom and a balcony.

There were outdoor and indoor pools and although not one of the paradors in a historic building it was extremely pleasant with a good restaurant and a pleasant and relaxing bar.

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Guess which is the 100 year old.

End of blog really, as we just sat around reading, planned a new layout for the garden back home, ate and slept. Right? Nah. Well right next to the parador entrance was a huge pine tree, more than a hundred years old which has been declared a national historic monument. So we had to walk out and view that.

 

Then there was a half day excursion into the Donaña National Park that we couldn’t miss and feet became itchy for a modicum of sightseeing but we did also manage some calm days at the hotel as well. The Donaña trip involved setting off in the dark to arrive at the departure point by eight a.m. But we arrived and got into a long wheelbase truck that took us on a brilliant trip throughout the varied areas of the park. We drove down the sea shore where we saw turtles, into the marshy bits with loads of flamingos and other birds and then into the forests where there were wild boar, deer and wild horses. Then the return trip was through the dunes. Four exhilarating hours of great interest and fun.

One of our friends had spent a year in southern Spain a while back and had told us about taking part in the pilgrimage to El Rocio so as we were only a short drive away we thought we’d go there for lunch and to see what it was all about. The town is like something out of a western with unpaved roads and yellow dust everywhere. Then there are the hermandades or fraternities where the different groups of pilgrims place their statues of the Virgin de El Rocio until it is time to visit her shrine. There’s street after street of white and yellow buildings with homes, bars and hermandades all intermingled and in true movie style there are hitching rails for your horse. We had lunch there and then drove back via the scenic route to Mazagon – a great day out.

P1010438 On another day we also decided to make a further excursion to La Rabida where Columbus set sail for the Indies and found America. There’s a dock on the banks of the Rio Tinto where full size replicas of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María can be visited. They are frighteningly small for voyages of that duration and P1010435danger. There’s an excellent dockside exhibition of what life was like in Columbus’ time and a great idea of how the galley was the most important part of the vessel.

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P1010482Just back inland is the monastery in which Columbus signed his papers confirming that Ferdinand and Isabella had come up with the cash for his voyage. It’s all set in a park with specimen plants and massive palms and a very pleasant few hours were whiled away including a stop for lunch which made somebody very happy.

Columbus was also associated with nearby Palos de la Frontera and Moguer which we saved for another day and proved well worth the visit. On the way we saw massive fields growing strawberries and discovered that this is Spain’s principal area for their cultivation. We also learned that there’s controversy because vast quantities of water are being extracted from the Donaña national park’s scant reserves to the extent that if action is not taken to stop the park may lose its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

In Moguer we were able to see close up one of the carriages and virgin statues for El Rocio as well as cowboys roaming the streets on horseback. There was a splendidly tiled theatre that was now used as a cultural centre where there was an exhibition of local artworks that proved leaveable-behind.

Having chilled for nine days in our splendid suite and had some of the rest we both needed we then set off for Cadiz a city we’d stayed in before – also in October – in 2003. Another surprise en route was field after field of cotton – just as with strawberries in Huelva, there’s an awful lot of cotton in Cadiz. We again stayed at the Cadiz parador but since we were last there it’s been demolished and rebuilt completely in a very modern style which works well. We had a room overlooking the luxuriant Parque Genovés and spent a lot of time on the fabulous pool deck.

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We did do the open top bus tour to get a feel for the whole city – a spectacular cathedral, a lofty watch tower, Santa Catalina castle right next to the hotel, long sandy beaches and a massive cruise ship terminal complete with three floating apartment blocks on a European tour.

Cadiz is a wonderfully compact city best explored on foot. There’s a great market, galleries, bars and restaurants galore and a fabulous amount of modernisme architecture and details on its buildings. We particularly liked some of the tiled advertisements. Cadiz is a real feast for the eyes and the belly. We were amused by the resilience of al fresco diners during a shower – umbrellas raised they carried on regardless.

We had to drive back to Malaga to fly home and foolishly kept the car but it didn’t leave the parador garage during our five days there at €12 a night. Big mistake, that’s another meal! I also had – there’s an end of holiday theme here – a lengthy Skype call with a publisher from the Netherlands to see if I was the right person to edit and native language check a secondary school English course they were revising and reissuing. It transpired that I am and have worked on it on and off for the whole of 2016 and into 2017.

Well we had actually done pretty much what we promised ourselves in combining periods of rest with a little light sightseeing. And we were treated to some absolutely fabulous sunsets.

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The drive back along the coast was fun too viewing Gibraltar from a great height and then driving all along the Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, Torremolinos strip towards Malaga airport and home.