As with all large cities, it was hard to find camp in a convenient location. That said, Seville had a spot that was more-or-less walking distance from the main sights in town. If we hadn’t read the reviews, we wouldn’t have gone, as it was down some pretty dodgy looking streets, and then inside what looked like a giant holding yard. The place was packed, and we were without other options, so we paid the piper his €12.
It was nearly 8PM once we’d parked and cooked dinner. We walked the 2km across the bridge and in to town, making it as far as Plaza de Espana, which was stunning – I was actually surprised, as things are usually hyped so much in our guide book. There was detail where there didn’t need to be detail, and then they added even a little bit more. You could honestly spend hours admiring it all – but we were tired, so the hour we spent there was more than enough.
Sadly, we didn’t know about the Semana Santa (Easter) taking place tonight, on Saturday before Easter Sunday. If we’d have known, we would have walked the extra distance to see it, as Seville is meant to have some of the most impressive parades in Spain.
The next morning was Easter Sunday, and with our previous experiences of Spain on a Sunday, we were expecting the entire town to be shut, but, it seems that it was business as usual – at least as far as tourist industry was concerned.
Rather than repeating the walk we had last night, we chose to drive in. We found a park near the Plaza that was being run by a group of locals, who charged us €5 to park on what was essentially a dusty traffic island. Not sure the legality of this, or how they get their ‘turf’, however, there were plenty of others doing the same – and it was cheaper than taxi, so we accepted.
Plaza de Espana was even more beautiful in daylight. The details now really ‘popped’ and could almost be considered superfluous.
There was a scene from Star Wars filmed here, with Anakin and Padme walking around the pavilion. We tried to recreate, you can judge for yourself.
The old town felt quite different to anywhere we’d been before, especially with all the orange trees. It was pretty, well manicured, and very Instagram friendly.
The biggest drawcard in Seville is the enormous cathedral. It’s said to be the largest (by volume) in the world, and it was also said that when it was created, they wanted people to look upon it and wonder if they were mad. I can say for sure that the line to get in was enormous! But mostly because we’d timed it poorly, arriving just before it opened (around 2PM). We got a dose of vitamin D, and got some quality time looking at the details in the carvings in the exterior.
Once inside, we passed through a small museum, featuring some somewhat unusual carvings.
And then we entered the cathedral… and wondered if the people that built this were mad. Enormous is a disservice – this was epic in scale, both incredibly tall, and incredibly long. The columns looked like giant trees, and would have easily been 8-10m in diameter. It felt like the sheds that Boeing 747s were built in – if they were decorated in lavish gothic detail. That was the other aspect of this cathedral, not only was it very, very large, it was also very, very beautiful.
I wish I could wax lyrical about the carvings in the choir, and the incredible main chapel with untold amount of golden gilding, or the beautiful rose windows, but I’m rubbish with words. Just trust me, this place was worth the wait to get in! As always, I get a little sad when I think about the amount of time and money spent building churches… but that’s just my theological point of view.
It also has the remains of Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), in a truly epic monument, carried by kings from four of the regions of Spain.
It wasn’t just the main cathedral, either. There were several smaller chapels off the side, which were decorated with even more lavish detail.
This cathedral was once a mosque. The old minaret was converted into a bell tower, which is very grand and distinctive – and you can climb to the top for fantastic views of town.
There were several other old remains of the Muslim past, including the old ablution (cleaning) area of the mosque was converted into an orange grove, which felt like a mini oasis in this heat. There were also occasional Arabic inscriptions and decorations.
It was well past the usual lunch-time when we finally sat down to eat, stopping in a small bar. There was a menu scribbled on the wall, consisting of small sandwiches, as well as tapas. We were hungry, and a little excited, so we ordered more than we needed. And then ordered a little more. And then just one last dish. The photos don’t do it service – it was delicious. It was interesting that they wrote the bill on the top of the bar using chalk – sadly I missed the main bill before she erased it.
We had nearly satisfied ourselves with our day trip to Seville. We took a long route back to the car, passing by the curious Metropol Parasol, which looked like a laser cut cloud.
The private courtyards here are beautiful, and occasionally there is a large enough gap in the front entry for us to sneak a view at what is inside.
And, since we were parked so close to Plaza Espana, we had to walk through one last time, this time with the golden light from the hour before sunset. It was also an opportunity to enjoy the parklands, as it was too dark last night, and too hot earlier in the day.
We managed to find a quite road stop outside of town, and then we promptly passed out, exhausted.
Our luck continued, finding a free park within walking distance of the historic centre. The sun felt even hotter and bitey-er than yesterday. Walking in from this area gave us the chance to see the old town, as well as the old Roman bridge from afar. Reading the history of this town, it was hard for us to believe that this was once the centre of the Muslim world, with more than 250,000 people living here. It was also said that all three major religions co-existed here for quite some time – until Christianity rose to power again, and reclaimed Spain.
We came to Cordoba for a single reason – to visit the Mezquita. Like the cathedral in Seville, this was at one time a cathedral, then a mosque, and now once again a cathedral. From the outside, the Mezquita was not much to look at. It was a rather plain building, with a tower similar, though smaller, to the one we saw yesterday in Seville. It too had the ablution yard converted into a small orange grove, providing some much needed shade.
Stepping inside, the building was like none we’d visited before, and we were truly moved. There were hundreds of arched columns, all decorated with an unusual red/white stripe pattern. It was dark inside, with light through the occasional opening brightly illuminating small sections of the interior.
There were still a few remains of the mosque past in the far wall, with some beautiful Arabic alcoves with original decoration. It was really nice to see that they hadn’t been removed or defaced during the conversion.
We spent so much time wandering the outer section of the cathedral that we nearly forgot to look at the actual main chapel. It was strange, it felt completely out of place, and at the same time, in cohesion. It was a soaring roof, bright white, and filled with ornate carvings. Much like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, it was truly unique, and truly beautiful.
I think we walked the building two or three times before we were content that we’d seen it all, each time photographing the same sights with the same initial enthusiasm.
We thought we might as well have a quick look at the rest of the town, since it was sunny, and we had free parking for the rest of the day. It was much like Seville, with old alleys and white buildings covered in vibrant flowers.
I had remembered that there was a special soup from Cordoba, so we popped into a cute little café, La Bicicleta, to give it a try. Salmorejo was a tomato based soup, thick and served cool. It was probably closer to gazpacho than tomato soup, and we felt nourished and refreshed at the same time.
We couldn’t decide where to go from Cordoba. It was either south to Malaga, or southeast to Granada? Or skip both and head for the mountains. In the end Granada won.
The driving was quite beautiful, passing through enormous olive groves covering the rolling hills. Actually, enormous isn’t a big enough adjective. There were points where you could only see olive groves. It completely dominated the landscape in this part of the country.
We passed by several small towns that were clumped to the top of a rocky hill, and topped with small forts or cathedrals. They were mesmerising, however, like just about everywhere else in Spain, there was nowhere safe to pull over to enjoy the views or take a photograph. Risa managed to get some quick photos while we were driving, but that was it.
There were two options for camping in Grenada – a cheaper place just outside of town, or one in the La Alhambra car park. We ended up paying to sleep in a car park right near La Alhambra, which cost us a shocking price of €30.05! It would be OK if it had some facilities, but it was literally just a car park. Still, it was far more convenient than the cheaper (though, still far from cheap) options a little outside of town.
It was already well after 8PM by the time we arrived. The sun was setting, and the temperatures were finally starting to subside. We walked back down into town, then up to the Sacremonte region, famous for both the Roma living in caves, and for Flamenco. We walked past several of the bars, but they are all set up as an evening performance, with a €30 entrance fee. We made do with the sounds escaping from the venues that trickled through the dark and windy streets.
The secondary benefit of walking to this area were the views of La Alhambra, though sadly we were just too late to catch the glow of the sunset – and wouldn’t be in town for the next sunset. It was such a beautiful, yet rugged, building. The floodlighting certainly made it look moody and imposing.
Risa had a quick tea from a small teahouse, (while I snacked on some fantastic Arabic desserts), which happened to have a spectacular view of the outer walls from their outdoor terrace. When we’d left, it was still quite warm. Now, it was rather chilly, and we’d clearly under dressed for these temperatures.
It had been a long day, and now we had to walk all the way back up to the top of the hill to the car park. Thankfully it was a little easier now the temperatures had dropped.
We were lucky to get tickets to visit La Alhambra. I’d heard the warnings, but thought that we were early enough in the season that it wouldn’t apply. It’s a pretty epic place, so it gets its own post – Euro Road Trip – La Alhambra.
Once we finished with La Alhambra, we still had a little time left on our parking – and surprisingly a little energy left in our tired and aching legs. We decided to burn that time (and fumes of energy) exploring the city a little. In the narrow streets of the old town, there were a surprising number of shops selling Arabic style products – rugs, scarves, tea ware, spices etc. Once again, it felt a little like being back in Turkey – however, minus the aggressive selling.
Somehow we had the energy to climb up the hills towards Sacremonte once again, this time catching the view from what is probably the best view point in town – San Nicola Mirador. It was busy with people relaxing, buskers playing music, and small artisans selling their jewellery.
The view was stunning. We caught a cool breeze and just soaked it all in. The whole view of La Alhambra and the snow capped Sierra Nevada looming behind. This is where I’d want to be for sunset – but I’m not going to pay for a second day’s parking just to see it.
We followed the same paths back down through Sacremonte that we walked along last night. It was just as eerily quiet, with barely a soul in sight. In fact, it was even quieter without the sounds of the Flamenco escaping the subterranean clubs.
Sadly, we still had to make it back up the hill to the car park to be able to leave town. We gave in and paid for the public bus back to the top. There was still an hour left on our parking, but we were far too tired to stay any longer. We both needed to eat, and then sleep – and that required getting out of Granada.
The drive south from Granada was some of the most spectacular we’d seen on our journey so far. Stunning cliffs, canyons and giant mountains. We’d heard that this part of Spain is the driest region in Europe, and it certainly looked it. It felt like we were in a desert.
We made it to the coast, found a car park by a quiet rocky beach, caught the tail of a sunset, ate dinner, washed and slept a deep, deep sleep. We’re certainly cramming a lot into our days.
South East Coast
We weren’t sure if we’d be woken during the night and asked to move – maybe they tried, but we were too soundly asleep to hear them. Sadly it wasn’t great weather for the beach, with strong cool winds, and clouded over skies. We’d wanted to spend a day relaxing somewhere by the sea, lying down, eating, or reading a book, but today wasn’t the day.
We continued east, but there wasn’t a great deal to see on this drive, which really surprised us, as we were purposefully taking the coastal/scenic routes rather than the newer motorways that were slightly further inland.
There were however the man-made sights… as far as you could see, there stretched the white roofs of greenhouses, growing the tomatoes and strawberries for Europe. If you look at Almeria on Google Maps, it looks like a snowy white peninsular. Our friends said that it’s visible from space!
The same winds that made the beach an unattractive proposition, also made driving incredibly slow. In places, when the wind was strong enough, we didn’t have enough power to use fifth gear on the highways, and we could only reach a top speed of around 70kph! There isn’t much we can do, other than keeping far right, and sitting in fourth gear.
I really wanted to get to Cabo de Gata, however, the day was fast running out. We opted for a caravan park (our first of the trip) just outside of the national park instead.
The wind didn’t ease off, and even with the shelter from a nearby hedge, our van whistled and rocked all night long. It didn’t matter though, I still slept a night of blissful sleep.
Cabo de Gata
The wind continued to be our enemy today, seemingly increasing in intensity overnight.
Friends have joked about us using our van to cook meth, just like Heisenberg in Breaking Bad. Well, with the desert-like setting, we decided to re-enact it as best as we could with the limited props we had. I’ll have to add some blue smoke in post-production one day…
We made it to the cape, but struggled to walk around or even open the door. It was a rugged and rocky view, however, with the strong and gusty winds, combined with precipitous edges, it didn’t feel like a great place to walk around taking photos.
I did still want to continue on the trail around the cape, heading to some of the smaller coves on the east coast of the peninsular. We started up the small goat track, climbing in second gear, catching phenomenal views behind us back towards where we came from.
However, at the top of the pass, the bitumen ended, and it turned into a gravel track. Even if I wanted to continue, a chain across the entry made it impossible. We now had to backtrack – and backtrack in gale force headwinds.
With the road around the cape closed, our plans for the day were cancelled. There wasn’t anything else we wanted to do or see, so we headed north towards Valencia a day early. It was a long, long drive, especially with the strong and gusty headwinds keeping our speeds around 70kph. Thankfully, after about 150km, the wind eased a little, and we could get into fifth gear and once again cruise at our usual 85kph.