Spain, April, 2017
Spain, April, 2017
(Mark and Vicki have spent about forty months in the last 7 years traveling Europe in two different RVs. Mark's blog at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com is searchable with lots of pictures. Vicki's write ups emphasize the practical things they wish they had known when visiting an area. Earlier write ups are at their website www.theroadgoeseveron.com.)
So the last day of March finds us back at the airport in Barcelona, heading for our camper storage at Caravan Center Parking just outside of Figures. Asking information at the airport we found a direct bus from the airport to Figures so we wouldn't have to schlep our luggage among too many shuttles and trains. A little more expensive at 25 Euros per person but worth it. (In this spring's write ups I am going to quote prices in Euros rather than dollars. The dollar is at about $1.07 so converting would be a pain and not amount to much difference in price especially when tax is already included.) We took an 18E taxi from the bus station, and our camper was waiting in their overflow field all washed (20E) and filled with water. Everything seemed great, and we crawled into bed.
Unfortunately, it poured rain that night and we had left our lawn chairs and table in their big sack outside. Next morning instead of loading them on the bike rack in the rain, we partially dried the bag, settled up with the storage folks (for the outside refrigerator ventilation fan they installed for us) and drove the 25 miles to a camper stop near Girona, in Quart N41 56.374 E002 50.350. The rain let up and Mark transferred the chair bag outside and I wiped up the water on the floor. By the next morning we noticed more water on the floor and now we knew it wasn't from the chair bag. The water pump was leaking under the dinette seat. But it's Sunday. We decided just to stay another night at the camper stop and head back to the storage place to get the water pump replaced on Monday. The pump was dated 1999 so for a 160E pump and 60E for 1 ½ hours of labor (we had them install a water filter we had bought 2 years ago and never gotten to) we were all set. Notice the labor price!!!!!!! These folks are awesome!
We decided to visit Pubol to see the castle that Salvador Dali gave to his wife Gala. We had already been to the Dali Museum in Figueres twice and once to their seaside home in Port Lligat near Caqaques. Somehow Garmina ( our Garmin GPS) decided on the scenic route to Pubol, a narrow mountainous ridge road filled with cyclists but not much traffic on a week day, thank heavens. We stopped at Els Angels overlook, the site of a former monastery and the place where Dali and Gala were (re-)married in 1958. Pubol is very small but pretty and Gala's castle was a knock-out. The village parking area was very nice and there were no signs prohibiting overnight parking, but we wanted to visit Girona and so headed back on the main road. (We will be buying a Michelin atlas in Barcelona for Spain and Portugal so I can check out where Garmina is sending us.)
Girona was picture perfect. Our Lonely Planet suggested parking just before the river (where some campers definitely looked like they were spending the night) and it was about half a mile or so to the town. Mark visited the cathedral but I spent most of my time wandering the windy streets in the old medieval Jewish quarter. There are a couple of Art Nouveau buildings also along the river in a beautiful shopping area. Really a nice place to spend half a day.
We went back to the camperstop for another free night with free water and dump before heading the short distance to Camping Barcelona. We stayed there for 9 nights in 2013, also in the spring. This time it looks like we will be here two weeks. It is comfortable and with our ACSI discount camping card only 16E a night, with electric. The bathrooms are spotless, it is right on the beach, and has a free, 4 times a day shuttle bus for the 45 minute trip to central Barcelona. There is also an even more frequent bus to Mataro for shopping. The weather has been perfect with highs every day between 67 and 70 and no rain. We have already had two long stays and 3 short stays in Barcelona, so I will highlight the new things we did. (We ended up staying 16 nights.)
We love just walking around seeing all the Art Nouveau buildings and other gorgeous architecture. When we stop RVing in Europe Barcelona will definitely be on our ”rent an apartment” list. I actually think here would be a great place to splurge for the hop-on hop-off double decker bus in early March or late February before the trees leaf out. We both have neck aches at the end of every day from constantly looking up at the buildings. One new building we toured was the Casa Amatlla, which is next door and built slightly before Gaudi's Casa Batllo. It was just opened to the public two years ago. Senor Amatlla was a third generation chocolate millionaire, and there is a yummy chocolate shop and cafe on the first floor. The father and his unmarried daughter lived on the first floor—quite eclectic in keeping with the times, but lots of stained glass and a lovely antique glass collection. We liked it a lot.
Another day we went to the Jamon Experience on Las Rambla. Corny, but informative. 15E for seniors got you the audio visual presentation and most importantly, the tasting. 2 slices of Serrano, Iberico and most importantly, 5 different Iberico Bellota (acorn fed.) and a small glass of beer, cava, or wine. Wow, what an opportunity to really find out what Spanish ham is all about and what ones you like. We then used the tiny 5% discount coupon to buy 35E worth of ham in their shop. It is shelf stable for 2 months until opened. Just remember you can import absolutely no meat into the US. We also did a free Sangria making class at the campground which was fun and informative.
Two different days we road the subway to Montjuic, a large hill in central Barcelona. We bought a 10 ride metro card which is 10E, so worth it even if you don't use them all. Get off the red line at Plaza Espana and then ride the escalators up the hill. We spent many hours at the National Museum of Catalonian Art, which is free for over 65 and well worth it even if you have to pay--especially if you like Medieval or Romanesque art. I admit we didn't like it our first few years in Europe. But thanks to the Professor of European Painting DVDs from Great Courses, we now really enjoy it. Suffice to say this is world class and there are also paintings by Rubens, Sisley, posters by Mucha, furniture by Gaudi, stained glass, etc. The building, done for the 1929 exposition, is also amazing and has a breathtaking view and a sophisticated restaurant on the upper floor and a decent cafe and snack bar on the first floor. Super gift store. We are not big Miro fans so didn't make it to that museum and ran out of time to see the much acclaimed gardens. We did ride the elevator up to the roof terrace in the Caixa Building which is unique if you have time. We were very sorry we hadn't found the Art museum on a earlier trip so we could have been paying a repeat visit.
We had never toured the Opera in Barcelona but having read more about the tour, we realized it included (at most times) a tour of some of the art nouveau rooms of the attached private club. Our guide was very good and the private rooms were stupendous. Unfortunately, the room with the Wagner opera stained glass was still private, but we did see the former casino room with its 12 Casas paintings illustrating music celebrations in Catalonia. All in situ, they have never been let out and include the first painting of an automobile, amazingly driven by a lady. Casas was quite a liberal thinker. Another day Mark toured the Maritime Museum; I read in the lobby, as ships are not my thing, but he enjoyed it.
Of course, we went to the main Mercado, but also be sure to go to the market Santa Caterina, just east of the Cathedral. It is smaller, more upscale, and way less crowded than the market on La Rambla. Whatever I ate at the main market gave me next day bellyache, so be careful there. Be sure to find someplace to have churros and the thick Spanish chocolate.
We did eat at a couple of good restaurants, Cafe d'Academica and three times at Cerveceria Cataluna. Best bet for any place popular is to get there before the Spanish eat—say 12:30 or 1 at the latest. We also discovered a street, Carrer de Bloi, just west of la Rambla, which has turned itself into a tapas stroll. Very good and reasonable and very popular. There are now tapas chain restaurants all over Barcelona, but this area felt more like what you would find in San Sebastian. By the way, we were in Barcelona basically the two weeks before Easter. It was incredibly crowded, especially Easter weekend when there was a home football match and several huge cruise ships in port. Luckily, we had already done all the most popular sights. Barcelona is so popular now that it is imperative that you book all the Gaudi places in advance and hotels, too. With the cruise ships all the reasonably priced rooms book out months in advance.
Heading south on the coast we stopped at Crypta Gaudi in Colonia Guell. The entire church was never built but it was here in the first floor (now called the crypt) that Gaudi experimented with the parabolic arches which would be the foundation of his plan for the Familia Sagrada Cathedral. Beautiful as usual. The church was part of a textile plant community—a company town, and the visitor office provides a guide to the buildings and a history of the community. Admission 8E for seniors. The parking lot is also a free aire for camping.
We spent the next two nights at Camping Palmeras on the beach near Tarragona. (16E with electric) This is a huge campground with lots of statics. Definitely a middle class second home for many. The “compounds” were even more elaborate than what we have seen in England and elsewhere. Usually there is a trailer, a huge, full length canvas tent, a square sunshade or two, privacy fencing, and many had an outdoor canvas tent kitchen with full size stoves and refrigerators. And this campground was only one of dozens along this section of the coast. The campground had a large market and 5 restaurants. The bus stops just outside the gate and for 1.5E it is a 15 minute ride to town. Tarragona itself was a lovely place built on outstanding Roman ruins including an amphitheater, circus, forum and outside of town, an aqueduct that you can still walk across. We visited the archaeological museum but it was only so so. What was outstanding was the Cathedral complex. Allow plenty of time for this as besides the cathedral there is a huge cloister and then the rest of the sizable buildings contain a museum with everything from Roman through Gothic treasures. Usually we skip the Diocesan museums but this one is well worth an hour or more. Lunch was a really good 6 course meal with wine for 15.5E at Ares—a husband and wife operation right off the Forum. The husband designed the interior twelve years ago, recreating an art nouveau atmosphere will brilliant wrought iron. And outside the piece de resistance is a Roman arch and column incorporated into the end of the building. It would be quite pleasant to spend a couple of days exploring this town.
But for us, time presses as we want to make the April Fair in Seville. We took the toll road which is 19E as far as Zaragoza and then free to Madrid, where we headed for our third stay at Camping Osuna on the northeast side of town. Madrid has few camping choices and happily Osuna has been improved over the years, but Mark says the men's showers are not all brand new nor heated like the women's side. We haven't found a propane refill so we are paying 29E a night which includes 4E for electric to run the refrigerator. We rarely pay for electric as our solar panel works great for our electric needs. But we are still benefiting from the strong dollar. In my write up from April, 2013 we paid $35 a night without electric and now that would $25. Groceries in Spain are also much less expensive and, of course, the produce is lovely as this is the garden of Europe.
In Madrid our number one priority is always the Prado—one of Europe's most outstanding art collections. Last time when we got there at opening we had no line, this time a 25 minute wait, so you might want to buy your tickets on line. Our favorite room is the Bosch where there are 7 of his works including the Garden of Earthly Delights. None are behind glass and you can get up close—well for the Garden you have to be patient and work your way up through the tour groups as for any popular painting in any art gallery. Lots of other splendid works throughout and all the signage is in English. The cafe has a snack bar and a very reasonable cafeteria style restaurant. Unlike most museum restaurants this one is an easy one for you to eat your own food in and there is free wifi. We loaded up on Bosch stuff in the museum store! Seven hours at the museum—lots of breaks though.
On Sunday we went to the El Rastro flea market in the La Latina area. Easy to reach by metro but overall a disappointment. We arrived about 10am and most stalls were just getting set up. There were very few antique or flea market type sales—mostly clothes, shoes, jewelry—the usual. None of the tapas bars in the area open before 1 pm so keep that in mind. We had lunch promptly at 1 at the Sobrino de Botin restaurant. Guinness World Records certified as the oldest still-operating restaurant in the world. You almost always have to have a reservation, but 1pm worked out for us. Their specialties are roast sucking pig and lamb—with pig being the headliner. Mark went for fish but I went for the pig. Never had it before—never will again. Basically they cleaver the tiny pig into 3-4 parts so you get mostly bone and fat with a tiny bit of meat sandwiched between, but I will say, a delicious quantity of crackling skin. Not an inexpensive place—the pig is 25E, though there are several mains at 12 to 15E. I peeked into the oven room on the way out. About 100 little piglets with their heads on stared out of their pans on the shelves. I don't think I could have ordered it if I had seen this before hand!
Mark and I had never been to the Thyssen museum. It is a lovely place with an incredible gift store and reasonable cafe. Though there are no individual block-buster paintings, there are important works from almost every period and they are arranged in chronological order rather than by country. So you get a great overview of the history of European painting with the bonus of many fine American artists. It is worth a long, leisurely visit. For early dinner (by Spanish standards) we went to the renovated mercado San Miguel, which is now about 20 different and excellent tapas stands with everything from sushi to desserts. It had been packed on Sunday but was only reasonably overcrowded during the week. We enjoyed Madrid far more this time than our last two visits. We walked more neighborhoods and the Thyssen was a delight to add to our love of the Prado.
We decided to stop again at El Escorial, which is the royal palace and monastery north west of Madrid. Parking is difficult as a camper will not fit in the underground garage. We parked along the wall in the front—very expensive at 4.5 E for two hours. And you can't see the place in less than 3 hours so it requires a trudge back outside to buy a second ticket. We ended up buying a third ticket when we figured out we could spend the night there (miming with the parking meter guard.) Though traffic was light at night, the cobblestones make it noisy. Better parking can be had by turning before the building by the sign pointing to Jardins de las Principes. We were told by a local that the area along this road fills up early on weekends and that campers spend the night there all the time. We were disappointed that the audio tour of the palace gave very little information on the splendid art inside, but you do need it to find your way around. It is an interesting place to visit and the library decoration is some of the finest in the world. Pictures aren't allowed but are often taken.
Though we have driven by the walled town of Avila before, this time we were determined to stop. There is a free camperstop at N40 39 41.4 W 4 42 21.3. It is a mile or so from there to the main historic area but believe me that finding any other place to park is a nightmare. All the P signs lead to parking garages and street parking outside the walls is scarce and campers won't fit inside the walls at all. Mark toured the cathedral, which he liked. I was getting Spanish Cathedral overload. We both walked all the accessible parts of the wall with the included audio in the 4E admission price. Great views and you also won't soon forget the lighted city walls from the camperstop. By the way, just outside of El Escorial on the road to Avila are several viewpoints of the countryside that seemed okay for spending the night. Mark and I prefer to be in places where other campers are around.
It is a straight shot on the free expressway to Salamanca, one of our favorite cities in Spain. It has what is considered the most beautiful plaza in Spain, a great and ancient university, a conjoined old and new cathedral plus one of my favorite buildings in the world, Casa Lis and its museum of art nouveau. Casa Lis was built as a palatial home with a stained glass roofed atrium, stained glass skylights, with stained glass windows on two floors running the length of the building which sits atop the old city walls overlooking the river. If you have any love of stained glass or art nouveau, I urge you to google it now. Words cannot convey its beauty. This was only our second visit as on our first trip to Spain in 2010 we didn't know how great Salamanca was. On our second trip, the cathedral was mostly closed for a holiday. The new one, built in the 14 and 15 centuries, is big and Spanish, but we liked far more the older Romanesque cathedral that adjoins. Fantastical capitals, wall frescoes, and sculpture were all captivating. We camped for two nights in a suburb at the Hotel Regio campground for a very reasonable 17E with our ACSI discount card. The bus to Salamanca stops right at the campground gate, so it was far more convenient than where we stayed in 2013.
On the way to Seville we detoured to the Monumento Natural de los Barruecos, which is a national monument set aside because of the unusual granite rock formations. There is an aire in the little town of Malpartida, right on the main road. The monument signs are not particularly easy to follow, and we got to the information center during the long Spanish lunch. It certainly looked possible to spend the night at the bus parking lot. The area of the rocks is at approximately N39 2555 W6 3019. Unless you are really into rocky landscapes it probably isn't worth the detour.
So, on to Seville and the merry month of May.