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The Silver Road by Motorhome (Dr Bob & Sandra) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

The Silver Road– by Motorhome

Dr Bob and Sandra

Dr Bob andCustard_large_to_go.jpg Sandra renovate their mountain home in Spain, visit their second home in Goa and explore Europe in their motorhome, affectionately known as 'Mr Custard'. We met them in southern Greece and, at the time of writing, they are planning a 12-month 'Big One' – the complete circuit of the continent of Australia.

For more of Dr Bob's excellent writing, click:

 

Dr Bob and the Spanish Fiestas by Motorhome

Dr Bob Travels Spain's Silver Road by Motorhome

Dr Bob Right Round Australia by Discovery and Caravan

Dr Bob's Australian Prescription

Dr Bob Returns to Australia

Dr Bob in Morocco 2010

Dr Bob's Moroccan Prescription

Dr Bob in Portugal 2010

Here they describe their motorhome and how they used it this year to travel Spain's Silver Road from Gijon on the north coast to Seville in the deep south.

Introduction

Mr.Custard is a 2002 McLouis Glen 690. It is 7.3m long plus 1m for bikerack, 2.2m wide and 3.3m high. When we purchased it from Caravanas Cruz in Elche(Alicante), everything was either at or going to the Annual Caravan and Motorhome show in Alicante, and Mr.Custard was an ex-rental they were about to sell on. Of our homes, he gives us the greatest pleasure.We find the lay out perfect for our needs but we would have added things as our appreciation grows - outside shower, entry step, vent in bathroom or mosquito blind etc - but then 'only God is perfect'.

THE SILVER ROAD

January 2006

After much frustration with the Australian High Commission and inability to get any formal information on the likelihood of a 12-month visa, we decided to travel up to Madrid and stay on Camping Alpha on the outskirts so we could tender the applications personally. Much of this would not have been possible without the kindness of our friends, the 'full-timers' Barry and Margaret Williamson, who we met in Greece in 2004.

Anyway, we arrived in Madrid and the following day we were at the Australian HC. Forget the '3 Working days', the 12-month visas were ready the next day with the fringe bonus being that neither of us are allowed to work. YIPPEE!

Well, if you think London is a jungle, Madrid is even worse. The number of museums, galleries, monuments etc, is just mind blowing. Neither of us are CITY people, nor had we the 6 months necessary to do the city justice, but we did the 3 city bus tours, visited the zoo(unimpressive) and the cable car (non-functional) and then departed north, intending to travel into Portugal and then head south to be at the Cadiz fiesta for the 21st February. We have to be home for the 28th, as Mr C.'s (their motorhome, Mr Custard's) insurance expires and we have been unable to extend for 2 months until UK & Oz.

So we passed through Avila and Salamanca, finally stopping at Zamora where we wild-camped (as usual) before driving into the city and visiting the Tourist Information Office, which was absolutely excellent, probably one of the best we have used. There, as well as a full package regarding the city, we purchased a €3 book on The Silver Road. We had looked at this last year, while on our National Spanish Fiesta Tour, and this seemed the perfect time to review options.

GIJON

This said, here we are in Gijon having arrived late on Sunday evening. The run into the city is hardly awe-inspiring, but then one is warned by the guidebooks regarding the urban spread and the iron and coal industries, which have dominated the province in the recent past. Monday morning however, after a chat with a pleasant police officer who felt that tourists could go down one-ways the wrong way (good man), we were parked on the esplanade to the west of Playa de San Lorenzo. We have stayed here since that time as, given the time of year, the place is hardly over-run with tourists. In fact, we have seen endless opportunities to wild camp, on the roads to and in the vicinity of the football stadium, etc.

Yesterday we visited Tourist Information and continued on to take the walk around Cimadevilla, which is the old town. We stopped at a small hotel restaurant for lunch (€8 menu del dia). The building was the former Institute of Navigation and Minerology and has been remodelled. What a brilliant meal and real VFM. We went back again today and had possibly the best Paella Mixa to date.

Today (Tuesday) we started off by visiting the Pueblo de Asturias which gives an insight into the life of the local peoples from the 1920΄s. At €2.35 it was good value. (Tuesdays are no longer free admission: it is now Sundays). From there it was a walk back to our restaurant and lunch. Following lunch, and a trip to Tourist Information on the Marina, we found one of 2 free Internet booths, although since the cursor is a ball and you only get 10 minutes, they are only practical to check your emails.

Then it was to the Museo del Ferrocarril de Asturias, which is the Railway Museum. As with the Wine Museum in Briones, la Rioja, you can hire a speakerphone keyed to English, enabling you to really experience the majesty of the narrow gauge railways in the local mining valleys of Asturia. Really brings back memories to one who grew up in the mining valleys of South Wales. Sandra even piloted a train on a mock-up, like the old BSM offices where you aimed at a screen - here it was of a railway track.

All too soon, it was 6 pm and getting dark; time to walk back to Mr C. and relax for the evening. Tomorrow, we have the Roman Baths, followed by our restaurant and the road to Mieres, which is our next step on the Silver Road.

Gijon I would recommend to visitors on the basis of beaches, camping, museums and sites, and excellent food. The winter days make for short hours but this is offset by the fact that the place is not besieged by tourists, as it is in the summer months with the afternoon and weekend pilgrimages to the beaches.

A definite visit. Next stop, Mieres. Then we will work our way down to Seville, which we absolutely adored the first time round. Then it will be Cadiz and the February fiesta, which is the first BIGEE in the Spanish fiesta calendar. From Cadiz it will be back to Seville and then to our friends in Malaga (who will also be getting this).

Actually, this makes a lot more sense logistically as the weather is brisk (not beach weather) so we're mainly sightseeing. So, it will be the Silver Road, followed by UK & Oz, and then on our return we will spend the summer of 2007 in Portugal before going to India. However, watch this space, as who knows?

Well, that's it and we'll be in touch as we go along our road.

31 January 2006

MIERES

Over the course of the last few days we have come to realise (forcibly) why the north of Spain is best left to summer - and also why we should have carried our propane bottles and not butane!

We finally left Gijon and many fond memories 3 days ago to travel south to Mieres. This time it wasn΄t such a surprise, as we had already seen the industrial squalor on our way up. Now, we journeyed straight to the town centre and parked in a cul-de-sac near the railway line. The nonchalance shown by the Spanish never ceases to surprise us, as they quite happily pop across the tracks. That evening we visited the Tourist Information, which was closed, but directed us to the temporary TI. There, a very helpful young lady heaped us with pamphlets (all in Spanish) and informed us that we were the first English people she had dealt with. She recommended a few sites - specifically the Centre of Local Culture 5 km up the lovely Cuna and Cenera Valley, and the Model Mining Village of Bustiello, which is off the 630 on the road to Cabanaquinta. As it was already getting dark, we toured the town itself and then started again the next day. Overnight it started to snow!

Well, the Cuna and Cenera Valley is beautiful but it was no place for our motorhome. We found the Museum of Culture and Heritage closed until 18th March. On to the Model Mining Village, which is an interesting example of an artificial village built through the initiatives of the Sociedad Hullera Espana owned by Claudio Lopez Bru, the second Marquis de Comillas. It was certainly artificial, in that it only really catered to upper and middle classes, with no accommodation for the mine-face workers. The 'museum' itself is housed in the previous home of the Main Engineer and here we met the Tour Guide, Isaac. I doubt he had seen anyone for weeks, and here again there was nothing for us in English. He showed us round and tried his best in halting English. There was only the denuded Museum and the Church to see, but we did find out that the Patron Saint of all explosions is Saint Barbara. Her father, having killed her with a shovel, was struck down by either thunder, lightning or both. We liked the Church, which is visited twice a month by a curate.

By now the snow was really coming down with a vengeance, so much so that we discovered the road to Cabanaquinta and the province of Aller (our next stop), had already been closed. No luck there, so we went on our way to Lena. Within 5 miles, visibility was down to 15 metres and we doglegged off the 630 and onto the A66 motorway. Now, the local countryside and scenery is fabulous and. if anything, enhanced by the snow. As Sandra says, 'Nice to look at, not to walk in.' She's so right. So, common sense dictated that we stay on the A66 all the way to Leon. On our way north we had travelled on the 630 over the Puerto de Pajeres, and that was a trip that tested our brakes. No problem on the way up, but coming down on a 1:13 gradient was a bit too hairy at times. So, we stayed on the A66. Lots of snow ploughs and a light system from green to black. We had green all the way and stopped at the service station restaurant at the top to enjoy the views and take photographs. Scenic splendour.

Then it was down into Leon, parking 100 metres from the Cathedral and waiting for Tourist Information to open at 5pm. We never got there! By 4.45 pm the city roads were all but impassable and we took shelter in a car park, barely finding enough room. 6 inches of snow fell within the next hour and the city (along with us) ground to a halt. I guess all the gritters and ploughs were on the A66!

No problems overnight and so the following morning, with no possibility of walking around the city, and a deadline of 21st February for the Cadiz Carnival, we ploughed our way out of the car park and headed for the Benevente road. The first 10 km were a nightmare with compacted frozen ice, even on the motorway. Finally, we were out of the worst, pulling in to Benevente and parking on the outskirts last night.

BENEVENTE

Although somewhat defaced by graffiti, we like Benevente, in that it is easy to walk around. There's a helpful Tourist Information, although we had our information in French and there was little in English. So, this morning we have started in the Plaza Mayor followed by the walk past the Church of San Juan del Mercado (7 to 8 pm) and on to the Fawn House on Grain Square. Just down the street is the Hospital of Mercy, inside which you find a courtyard surrounded by galleries leading to the Hospital's chapel. Down the Rua or High Street and to the Church of Santa Maria del Azogue with its 5 apses and magnificent Romanesque facades. Construction started in the 12th century but spanned a number of periods.

Then it is on to the gardens called the Jardines de la Mota, not at their best at this time of year obviously, and Mota Castle with the 'Snails Tower'. The castle is now a Parador (Hotel) and, as there was a conference being held inside it, we waited for 15 minutes until the group took coffee allowing us access. Magnificent! Just the Reina Sophia Theatre to see and then it will be lunch and back on the 630 to the Monastery de Moreruela, Villafafilla (Church in a National Park) and Castrotorafe (Ruined Castle). Here, or in the vicinity, we shall stop overnight before driving in to Zamora some time tomorrow. Of course, this is not our first time in Zamora, where the journey really started. Still, this time we can visit the various museums and churches which were all closed the Sunday we came through.

The weather is clear and extremely cold. The surrounding mountains are capped with snows and everywhere there are cars with loaded ski racks. Rather them than us!

Off to lunch and back to the road. This is a beautiful part of Spain, even though it is now at its starkest. The northern forests hold deer, wolves, boar, pine martens and a wide variety of birds including capercaillie grouse. But these, I think, are for visitation during more temperate times. We will be back, and meanwhile the road and our stomachs beckon!

ZAMORA

Arriving back at Zamora was a little like finishing Part 1, as our journey on the Silver Road had started from here with the literature from the excellent Tourist Information Office. The weather continues cold and that morning, like the previous one, we were blanketed in freezing fog until early afternoon. Still, we reached Zamora by mid-afternoon. Knowing where to park was useful and, more especially, where to wild-camp (just out of town near the planned extension to the A66 motorway.)

The information package from Zamora TI covered the various walking routes around the town. That afternoon and evening we were able to do the two main walks - The Churches and The Romanesque. The Cathedral is delightful but unfortunately was closed for major building work. A kindly builder indicated that the Museum was open, however, with an interesting and valuable collection of Flemish tapestries. Then on around the by-ways, finally driving back to our overnight spot in full darkness. (Not always advisable with a motorhome, as you need to see off the road).

The next morning - yes, you've guessed it - thick fog again! Still, today was our day for the Museums so it was up and out. We managed two: The Museum of Zamora, which dates the city back to pre-Roman times, and The Semana Santa Museum. This was due to open at 4 pm but Spain being Spain the lady didn't arrive until 4.15, just as we were giving up. It was well worth the wait. Now, we have seen Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Seville (in fact it was our first main Spanish fiesta last year), but this was something else. Unlike Seville, all the various paseos (religious floats) are stored in the Museum. (In Seville the individual paseos stay in their respective churches.) We were also fortunate to be the only visitors on that cold grey afternoon. There was a video and a sound track which could be amended. The lady ascertained we were not Spanish-speakers and so we listened to the whole hour in English and it answered so many of our questions remaining from Seville.

The paseos were beautiful and, for the large part, sad. Those who know Semana Santa in Spain will know what I mean. We were in the Museum almost until closing, leaving at full dusk to walk the cobbled streets of the pedestrianised old city back to Mr C. As we looked at the sky we saw squadrons of storks returning from feeding in the water meadows surrounding the magnificent River Duero, which runs as a skirt around the edge of the city. As the lights came up, Zamora appeared to be haloed against the great sky. A lovely city and one we enjoyed on both occasions.

SALAMANCA

All too soon we were on our way, back on the N630 heading south to Salamanca. Almost as if attempting to delay our departure, we were soon driving into swirling fog reducing our speed to less than 50 km/hr. Not so the local drivers, who zoomed past us as if this was a form of machismo. Not for us! We must have gone about 60 km when we spotted a deserted/abandoned weighbridge and here we spent a very relaxing night.

The next day it was in to Salamanca, almost immediately finding a church car park not far from the Roman Bridge, which is one of the monuments of this exceptional city. People rant about Granada and its virtues but to us it doesn't compare with Salamanca, where we were to spend the next 3 days.

The old city is so easy to walk and is extremely tourist-friendly. Our published book on The Silver Route gives 7 walks originating from the Plaza Mayor, and we have done them all. The Plaza Mayor itself is fabulous and is reputed to be the most beautiful in Spain. No argument from us. Churches, monuments and museums everywhere, and after the walks we spent time in the Cathedral Museum, the Automobile Museum, the Museum of the Flour Mill, the Masons' Museum and the Museum of Bulls and Bullfighting. Given its tourism base, it is somewhat sad that none really catered for any except Spanish visitors. Considering the audio-visual aids that we have found, in places as separate as Gijon and Briones (la Rioja), there is really no excuse for this. (I know - learn Spanish!!!!!)

There are so many things to see in Salamanca that it is difficult to compile a comprehensive list, without being tedious. Obviously the Cathedrals (2), the old and the new. It is free to enter the new cathedral, built to buttress the old, and there is ample indication inside of the need for this support. It also gives access to the old cathedral, which has the museum, and there is a pamphlet in English to assist (the commentary is in Spanish). There are also Museums, the House of Shells (now a TI Office and Public Library), the Roman Bridge, numerous Convents and Monasteries, the Art Deco Museum - pricey but beautiful – and so many broad avenues, streets and plazas.

So wide and airy, such an expression of space, and all so clean and well maintained. We didn't want to say it, but for those travelling in this area, Salamanca is a must. Numerous cafes with the whole range, from a Menu del Dia at €5.5 to prices in the 30's. You pay your money and take your choice.

Again the city is framed by a river, on this occasion the River Tormes. It was lovely to stand on the various bridges and watch the river with its multitude of birds (egrets, herons, ducks, gulls and cormorants, as well as the ever present storks). Looking into the depths of the river, we saw a number of large fish, possibly trout.

All too soon, the last Menu del Dia consumed, it was time to unlock Mr C and head south on the N630, this time to Bejar which is our next port of call. So many things to see, so many places to visit - we can but try.

BEJAR

We arrived here on a Saturday evening, parking in ample space off the Plaza Espana. Just above here is the Turismo which opened about an hour later. Just as well we have the appropriate Tour Guides, as there was nothing in English yet again (they did have pamphlets and brochures in Spanish, German, French and Italian). Still, we strolled around the centre before heading up the mountain road above the town to El Castanar, where we refilled with water from the springs next to the oldest bullring in Spain. Then it was on up the hill to our wild camping place for the night, next to the Auberge or Youth Hostel with loads of parking space. The only disturbance was the lowing of cows in the fields below and the clanging of their bells.

The next morning it was a quick shower and back down the mountain to La Castanar, where we visited the Bullring and also the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Castanar, the patron saint of Bejar and the surrounding district. Unfortunately the Bullring, inaugurated in 1711, was closed but we were able to peep inside. It is now used as a school for matadors. However, the church was open and, being Sunday, a service was about to start. We admired the inside of the church, beautiful in its simplicity with the statue of the Virgin holding centre stage.

Then down into the town for the prescribed walk from the Plaza Espana south to the old city walls. Excellent, although really very little to hold us spellbound. Obviously not too much money is coming into Bejar, which used to rely on the textile trade. Just next to the walls of the old city there is a statue of a 'Moss-man' (Un Hombre de Musgo). This dates back to the time when the local Christian forces took back the city from the Arabs in the 14th century, covering themselves with moss to crawl through the woods to stage the successful assault. This is celebrated every year on 17th June.

At least there were some highlights, such as the square outside the Cervantes Theatre where we sequentially watched a spiral of 10 Spanish Golden Eagles followed shortly afterwards by 100 Storks.

Then there was the fabulous restaurant where we finally enjoyed Calderillo Bejarano, which is a veal stew with potatoes, peppers, peas and rich condiments. Absolutely delicious in a lovely warm little tavern - just what you need on a cold, raw Sunday.

The Palace of the Dukes of Bejar with its 2 towers was closed, as was El Bosque which is a picturesque wildlife park as you enter the town. Ah well, maybe another time.

PLASENCIA

Then on to Plasencia which was well worth the visit. We arrived late on the Sunday but not too late to catch the Turismo at the Old Walls and Medieval Interpretation Centre. We struck out again with only a town map, grateful for a walk along the old city walls and battlements, from the Puerta del Sol to the old aquaduct which used to carry water to the city. We had parked at Parque de los Pinos and thought we would stay overnight but it remained really busy, so later on we moved to the outskirts near a building site which was much better.

The next morning we were up and off for a walk around the city, calling at the Turismo near the Cathedral. Just as well we did, as the staff member was excellent. She spoke English and very rapidly ascertained our interests - wildlife, natural parks, gastronomy, etc. The information, books and brochures came thick and fast and we finally left as the proud owners of Passports of The Silver Route, which we hadn't been given before. We had an embarrassment of information and all free. Amazing - even better than Zamora. We intend to send an email to Spanish Tourist Information. Others could learn from this office and the one at Zamora!

So it was around the town visiting both Cathedrals (the new and the old) which, although beautiful, pale beside the splendour of Salamanca. Then there was the Palacio de Monroy and the Jewish Quarter. So many streets to walk, so many buildings evocative of times past, when the cobblestones rang to horses' hooves and the rattle of carriages.

It was in Plasencia in a quaint restaurant down a back alley that we finally had frogs' legs which, I can assure you, are not as good as those cooked Chinese-style. Still, here we crossed off another regional favourite and tried Acorn (ballotta) liqueur, which is superb if you have a sweet tooth.

Then it was a stroll back through the old town to Mr C and off to somewhere I have wanted to visit for a considerable time.

THE MONFRAGUE NATURAL PARK

Although not on the Silver Route, this Natural Park is almost certainly the finest in Spain. Located 18 km from the city, it has to be visited. The wildlife is superb and we spent 2 extremely happy days wandering 2 of the 3 prescribed routes (green, yellow and red) that emanate from Villareal de la Carlos. Now, we had anticipated that we would have to stay outside the park, at the campsite on the way. Not so, said Turismo at Villareal, just park here. So we did. The first day we took the red trail of 12.5 km ending at Salto del Gitano. There were so many Griffon Vultures overhead that I felt as if I was in a Brit Bar in Albox. (Sorry, in-joke if you live in Spain).

At this site there are 80 nesting pairs of Griffons, as well as Black Vultures and a pair of Peregrine. We watched in awe and amazement as the singles, pairs and flotillas swooped and soared over the gorge. Then on to the 13th century Castillo de Monfrague and a 2 km walk up to the Castle and Ermita. On the way we passed pairs of Griffons less than 20 m away and, yes, they are extremely vociferous in the mating season! (How many can say they have watched vultures bonking?)

The following day we followed the yellow route to the Dam that converts the River Tejo to a reservoir. Now we would have been happy with one Azure Magpie but we were mobbed by dozens! Truly wonderful. We also saw a Kingfisher (scared away by the arrival of a mob of magpies) and a Short-toed Eagle. A pair of Black Vultures, numerous Griffons, a Heron, dozens of Cormorants and a Robin finished off a fabulous sunny day. Awesome. It was funny to see the huge Griffons perched precariously on the tops of trees, tearing off branches and foliage for nest building.

We should have stayed longer.

CASAR DE CACERES

On to Casar de Caceres, a visit you can fit in in a matter of hours if you wish. There is no Turismo here and so we had our Passports stamped at the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento). It never helps if you are asked why you are here, as there is nothing to see! Strange, as in our guide book it has as many pages as Gijon. Still, we saw the main church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion which claims to have 40 storks' nests. Well, we can attest to dozens of storks at least, though 40 may be poetic license. We also visited the Cheese Museum and watched a series of videos about the life of shepherds and the making of ewe's cheese, which is the speciality for this area. An interesting half-hour.

One has to comment on the town lake, however, where we overnighted. Fabulous to wake in the morning, open the lounge curtains and watch about a dozen cormorants fishing outside your window. There were also egrets, a heron, ducks and geese. A great place to park. We even made friends with the 4 white bullocks in the adjacent field. Then it was on to Caceres. But that's for another day.

So here we are just about to exit Zafra and of course the Extramadura, which we have come to appreciate for its scenic beauty. So much of it was lost decades ago with the planting of Eucalyptus as a cheap source in the paper industry. Didn't anyone tell them that they go up like Roman Candles? Obviously not. You know, seemed like a good idea at the time! Thankfully, much of the land has now reverted but has yet to return to the emblematic rolling fields and meadows with cork oak standing in lofty majesty. The paddocks can be left as such, as pasture or used for crops. Here we are in Wine country, which I feel is far more picturesque than the French equivalent (author's licence!)

CACERES

Caceres – worth a day at most and that is pushing it. Another walled city but here renowned for the number of fortress houses, since initially the city wall enclosed garrison quarters etc. Then, as the city enlarged and changed, these were modified into fortified palaces, mansions and houses. The many stone walls with narrow cobbled streets and alleyways gave it a feeling of claustrophobia, only dispelled when the sun shone through.

The Plaza Major is a reasonable example but don't eat there. There is one of three Turismos here, and probably the worst. We found the one opposite the Parador to be the best but you have to be quite firm in asking for booklets etc as they are not offered. There is a good pamphlet on local restaurants - VITAL. From the square, go through the Arco de la Estrella (Stars Archway) which is the entrance to the old city. From then on it's the Con-cathedral, various churches and all the fortress houses, although few are accessible.

We particularly liked the Plaza de San Mateo with the surrounding Church of San Mateo, and the Palacio de las Ciguenas (Storks' Palace) - the only one that was allowed to retain its full tower without having to have it lopped off by the order of Queen Isabel la Catolica (never does to back the losing side). Then there was the Palacio de las Veletas which is now the Museum of Caceres. In the basement is a cistern from the 6th century. The Museum is interesting and varied, but again nothing in English and no audio aids. There is also a Jewish quarter and a fine Mudejar house from the 4th century.

The town is a nightmare for parking, but if you find the Bullring there's an avenue and church to the side and plenty of space. So, this is the place if you wish to see the finest example in Europe. Their words not mine. Returning to The Storks' Tower, as we left the city, we noted it was the only tower or high point without a stork on it! We wonder if there is a hidden truth here. We felt the city needed more funding as, with the exception of buildings now serving an alternative function, there was a lot of reparation required.

MERIDA

Readers will recall a 'note from Merida'. Are we glad we stopped by? Absolutely! Fabulous and obviously much has been done and continues to be done to ensure the heritage is improved and expanded.

So much to see and well documented. You buy a ticket for €9 that allows you single access to all the sites, over as many days as you need. In addition you get a most informative booklet giving comprehensive information. The Amphitheatre, the Circus Romani , the Theatre, 2 Aqueducts, 2 Reservoirs dating from Roman times, a fabulous Roman Bridge which at 145 m is the longest we have seen to date; the Alcazaba of mixed Roman and Moorish origins, Arches, Museums and Plazas. A truly beautiful city and one that we shall revisit in the future. The river, although quite grand, is still polluted so I passed on a fish dish.

We wandered and gazed and then went back and did it again. It was different from Salamanca, having a less grandiose style, but then it does pre-date it historically and the lure is the Roman remains.

Some years ago a cult arose in Spain which might be best described as 'Freedom to Party'. Throughout Spanish towns and cities at weekends the young would populate the city squares, bringing food, drink and music - basically an open-air party and rave. Eventually these ad hoc parties became problematic and were stamped out. We happened on a residuum in Merida, where on weekends the city youth take over the waste ground to the side of the railway tracks where the Feria and Circus are pitched.

There is LOUD music emanating from numerous cars, with drag racing. Sounds fun? Yes, it might have been had we known that we were parking where it was to occur. At 2.30 am enough was enough, and we drove out to one of the reservoirs and parked. Nice to visit, but not to stay!

Another point we found upsetting was the amount of graffiti on buildings, walls, monuments. You name it, it was signatured. One reason we moved.

ZAFRA

A beautiful drive south, and here we are 160 km north of Seville and nearing the end of our journey. Zafra is well worth a visit. We arrived yesterday and will be leaving at the end of today.

We have walked the set route and enjoyed the several large churches, monasteries and old mansions: the Parador, the Palaces of the Dukes of Feria and we had particularly wanted to see the Chapel with its Mudejar coffering. We were told by a rather ignorant lackey that it was locked and NO, he only spoke Spanish. Couldn't be bothered to ask for the Manager, although they are supposed to allow public access. Similarly Bodegas Medina was closed, so there went our tour and free tastings - must have been too early. We also missed the Folk Museum. Still, it has a quaint and occasionally quite beautiful old sector.

So there we are. Almost at Seville with only Santiponce and Carmona before Seville itself. But then it's on to Cadiz and CARNIVAL.

Another journey ends and here we are back again in Sevill, so familiar to us from the 10 days we spent here in April 2005 for Semana Santa and the start of our year of the major Spanish Fiestas. At the time, we had no knowledge that the first Fiesta was actually Cadiz but not to worry, as that is our next stop. Still, I get ahead of myself, back to the Silver Route and:

SANTIPONCE

This town is situated just 7 km outside Seville and is noteworthy on 2 accounts:

1 The Ruins of Italica

Some friends had recommended Italica to us and a well made recommendation it turned out to be. The first thing of note is that the site is free to EU citizens, although we did have to produce our Spanish Residencias. The Roman city of Italica was founded by Scipio in the year 206 BC at the height of the war against Carthage. It was the first settlement in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and received its name in remembrance of Italy from where its first inhabitants originated. At first the city was above all a military camp and field hospital for the war-wounded. Both Trajan and Hadrian were born and lived there at various times in their lives. Hadrian especially enriched the city with magnificent buildings that constituted the New City, set on the uppermost part which now makes up the archaeological site of Italica, while the old city remains below the village of Santiponce. The excavations themselves began in 1781 and have continued up to this day, with most of the residential areas yet to be fully excavated. Thanks to ground-penetrating radar and the manner in which Roman cities were constructed, the areas still to be explored are distinctly demarcated.

We spent most of a day wandering around the site, which also has a restaurant just inside the gates. Some of the original roads are excavated and show the original paving stones. We must mention the various casas or private houses, usually 2 to a building plot, with specific names due primarily to the mosaics unearthed. So we have the House of Birds, the House of Exedra, the House of Neptune, the House of the Rhodium Courtyard, the House of Hylas and the House of the Planetarium. There are the initial excavations into a Temple dedicated to Trajan, who was deified, and the Major Baths (Major Thermae), which are the best examples we have seen to date (including Gijon and Merida).

The most spectacular item, however, must be the Amphitheatre which is so much better than the one at Merida (if one is wishing to compare, that is). The one here is a third larger than at Merida (20K spectators as opposed to 14K) and the central Beasts' Pit, which was used as a service zone for the spectacles, is completely delineated. However, the Theatre is not as spectacular as the one at Merida, which has been better explored and presented. One is not able to enter the Theatre here, but there is a vantage point for photographs. All in all, an excellent visit.

2 The Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo

Again a freebie. Founded in 1301 as a fortress monastery by the Cistercian order, who left in 1431 when the Jeronimos took over. The Monastery was finally abandoned in 1978. The reparation, which is relatively recent, is excellent and all facets are worthy of note. It was the seat of the Bear Bible, the first translation of the Bible into Spanish. The authors had to flee the Inquisition in consequence. The Cistercian altarpiece is still being renovated and the renovator was quite happy to discuss his work. Unfortunately, we don't have enough Spanish!! The altarpiece in the second Jeronamyte monastery is fabulous and to the side are the kneeling figures of Don Alonso and Dona Maria Coronel, two of the only three figures constructed by Montanes that are not sacred. There is so much more to see, that one can only recommend a visit.

Santiponce also has the Fernando Marmolejo Municipal Museum, attached to a very helpful Turismo, but only one floor is open and it is unremarkable of its type. Fernando himself reminds us of Fred Dibnah!

Apart from that, Santiponce is a sleepy little place where 'wild camping' is easy and the people all say hello. Strange to think that Santiponce itself, or at least the current village, sits squarely on the lower and middle class pasts of Italica, the entire site initially being owned by the monastery who ceded the site to the citizens of the old town of Santiponce, which itself was washed away and buried by the River Guadalquivir on 20th.December 1603. It must be horrendous trying to build anything new in the town itself, as any foundation must unearth Italica.

On to Carmona, our penultimate stop on the Silver Route.

CARMONA

We liked Carmona as much for its ease of exploration as for the quaintness of the Spanish town itself. Most Spanish houses in old quarters are like 'Tardis', in that they are huge in comparison with their frontages. Carmona is an excellent example, where one looks past front doors and vestibules into spacious courtyards resplendent with statuary, fountains and plants.

The Turismo is situated at the Puerta de Sevilla, the bastion raised by successive occupiers from the 9th.century BC onwards to strengthen this, the weakest access to the city. Even Caesar, it is reported, was impressed by the complexity of this Carthaginian stronghold. After the Roman period, the Moslems further enhanced the fortifications, which were again added to in Medieval times by the Christian kings. Via the Turismo, for a small fee, one has access to the Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla fortress, with views over the old city and down into the valley of the River Guadalquivir and the fertile bottom land of La Vega.

Through the Puerta de Sevilla and through Calle Prim is the 15th century Church of San Bartolome. Continuing along we come to the Plaza de San Fernando with some remarkable Mudejar houses from the 16th century - definitely a photo opportunity. Also here is the Old Town Hall and its current successor. Adjacent to the Town Hall is the 18th century Church of the Divine Saviour, the only one in Carmona facing East. The nearby Plaza de Abastos (Market Square) is recommended and one can eat and shop here.

Our sole Church Museum was that of the Priory Church of Santa Maria, which cost €3 each. However, the City Museum and Interpretation Centre, located just at the back of the former and in the Palace House of the Marquis de las Torres, is excellent and really puts the development of the city into its archaeological context. Its information is in both English and Spanish, which helps.

Finally through the old city streets to the Puerta de Cordoba, which, although hardly a second Puerta de Sevilla, is spectacular in its own right.

Now on to the gem of the city, the Necropolis. Situated about 2 km. from the Puerta de Sevilla and again with free entrance for EU citizens, it is undoubtedly the best example we have seen to date. There is a small and excellent museum (in English and Spanish) with an interesting collection.

The Necropolis itself is worth the visit if only for the Tomb of Servilla, which reproduces a luxurious Roman house with its inner courtyard and galleries, but of course as a mausoleum. Also the Elephant Tomb, a shrine dedicated to the worship of the deities Cybele and Attis. We were really impressed.

SEVILLE

So on to Seville and the end of our journey. We spent the night on the Isla Magica, a suburb next to the river where there is a theme park. No problems with parking and no disturbances apart from the usual vehicles containing amorous couples (we call them 'snogglers'). Still, no problem. The next morning it was on to Paseo de Colon where there is ticket parking from 9 am-2 pm and 5-7 pm, but free on weekends. We got there at 7.15 am and we were the second vehicle.

So much to see in Seville, but we noted that the Cathedral had gone up to €7.50. The last time we were there, at 4 am on a miserably cold Friday morning in April, ticket touts were trying to sell us deserted spectator seats at €35 each, their original and probably elderly purchasers having already left for warm beds.

We still feel that the best way to see Seville, and for that matter so many large cities, is on the Tourist Bus. You have 24 hours and a get on/get off policy that allows you to see, then get off to explore, eat, etc. Here they have 2 companies, although we usually go for the Big Bus with the choice of a double-decker bus or a motorised tram. Quite simply, there is so much to see and so many different tastes that can be catered for. I leave it to you, the Turismo and your guide books. Yet again we found the Turismo at the Cathedral impoverished, getting much better attention and guidance at Turismo just up from the Bullring on Paseo de Colon (opposite direction to the Golden Tower).

So there we are, the end of the journey, or at least THIS journey. But then there are so many other journeys, and even on this one we have been given guide books for at least 3 others stretching across Middle/Southern Spain. 'The Road goes ever on and on' (excuse the 'Hobbit' plagiarism) and we are on the Road to Cadiz and Carnival.

10 April 2006

Arrived back in sunny Manchester on Sunday. We left Almeria in 28 deg C sunshine to be greeted by 5 deg C sleet and rain. (So nothing changes). The Monarch flight was packed and smelly and the TV inane - or is it just us!!???

Although moving on to different continents and experiences, we will really miss our mountain which is spectacular at this time of year. The lavender is in full bloom with gorse, broom, rosemary, thyme and myriads of wild flowers all benefiting from the wet winter. The wildlife has also been particularly good with an explosion of greater spotted cuckoos, which although eye-catching are particularly garrulous and raucous. We are leaving just as the bee-eaters arrive. Initially they keep to small flocks before pairing off and we can guarantee a fly-past each evening, usually just before our bats and the pair of eagle owls start putting in an appearance.

Our choughs have decided on the old well to nest in. The well is 22 metres deep and no longer functional and somewhere between the surface and the empty base there must be a ledge sufficiently wide to accommodate a nest. With the foxes, eagle owls, kestrels and eagles this must seem a secure sanctuary. It's amazing to think they can lift vertically to fly back up to the well exit. There is also one pair of wood-chat this year and there seem to be more hares, which we are particularly fond of.

Glad to report that the building work has proceeded better than anticipated and half the outside walls of the cottage are now stone-clad to 1 metre. The kitchen is finished, as is the bedroom tiling, so now only some replastering is needed. The mezzanine is finished with the exception of some tiling. All electrics are now sub-surface (the normal Spanish, and Indian, method is conduit along the walls - hardly aesthetically pleasing). So we leave on a high, although do you ever really finish with a house? Still, on our return in April 2007 (God willing), we reckon that 20 builders' days should complete the job.

So here we are for the next 10 days and, although it is lovely to see all Sandra's family and friends, the road still calls.

We shall be in touch and this time, should we acquire the skills, there will be photographs.

With Fondest Best Wishes

Dr Bob & Sandra