A Travellerspoint blog

Torrents in Zafra

Will it ever stop raining?

semi-overcast 19 °C

Room 306, Parador de Córdoba
Sunday 31st October, 2021

We love reading your comments. Thank you so much! And, yes, they were Christmas decorations up in Lepe. We suspect they have other fiestas before and make do with the Christmas ones. At least in Mazarrón they say "Feliz Fiestas", rather than "Feliz Navidad".


Where were we? Ah yes, in the rain in Zafra. Well, Saturday dawned and it was still raining. It had been raining all night and the wind was howling too. Perhaps it didn't like the rain either? Our plan had been to spend at least the morning in Mérida, viewing the Roman ruins. We decided to drive there with the intention of doing a country drive if it was still raining. On the way, the rain was so bad, John had to turn on the rear fog light. Monsoon tyres required. But then, miracle upon miracle, and thank you HP, it actually stopped raining as we pulled into the parking place we'd found on Google Maps. It was about a 6 minute drag, uphill (John's poor old back) and there we found a long queue for tickets. But it still wasn't raining!

John was rather annoyed as we normally try and buy such tickets ahead of time, in which case, we would have saved the 30 minutes or so wait, and just waltzed (or tango'd) in. There were some annoying Nordic kids playing around us until John lost his cool slightly and banged his umbrella on the ground muttering "Covid" and "distancia". It made little difference. There was just one man selling the tickets at just one window and, as you'd expect in Spain, had no sense of haste, given the length of the queue, whatsoever. We got in as pensionistas for a mere 6€ each.

Oh wow! It was worth the wait just to gawp at the Teatro Romano and the Colosseum where we stood on the same stones where gladiators had been shaking in their boots and helmets, prior to killing each other. Aaah the good old days when entertainment was proper bloody entertainment.

Will never get the hang of selfies

Coming out, we ignored the way we had come up from the car park and took a wrong turning. It then started raining and the map on John's phone was impossible to interpret. Suddenly we noticed our Tiguan through a fence! And a cafe next door where we could recuperate with a couple of cafés cortados.

We sat in the car trying to come up with an interesting route home. We've always enjoyed exploring the countryside on "B" roads and we bunged a few villages into the Garmin GPS and she took us to a huge embalsa (reservoir) where it had again stopped raining and we were able to stretch our legs and wonder at the marvels of engineering from previous times. She then headed back to the motorway which was definitely not the intention. So Bob got out our map of España and started map reading!! Eventually Ms Garmin caught up with us and guided us on our intended route. But Bob continued to map read just in case. Well done Bob for that excellent achievement!

There were intervals when the rain was quite light but there were two spells when it was as if we were driving through a typhoon. The wipers could barely keep up and we nearly had to come to a standstill. Luckily there was zero other traffic on the roads and the only people we saw were old men standing in the doorway of the odd village-centre bar, staring at the rain and wondering how they were going to get home.

We saw warning signs for deer, cattle and lynx crossings but failed to spot any lynx (which reminds me to apologise for some bad links to the blog as I know some of you had problems accessing some of the episodes). We saw more storks' nests and one even had a stork in it! And no, it did not know the difference from butter. Or so it muttered.

Look carefully. Three nests on three electricity pylons.


We made it back to the Parador, via the worst Mercadona in Spain (down at heel, muddily and generally tatty!) and got even wetter going in from the car. We've discovered that our "Cotton Traders" waterproofs are not... waterproof that is!


As the rain continued to fall we decided we could not face more walking in the rain, so booked a table for dinner in the Parador again. However, it stopped raining and we decided to risk it and walk to Plaza Grande, cancelling our table on the way. We found a smart little restaurant that was just opening with extremely pleasant staff and a nice choice on the menu.


We shared fig and gorgonzola salad which was extremely nice, but bereft of figs, for some reason. Bob had bacalao in a tomato sauce and John a really nice moussaka. We forgot to take pictures, especially of the postres, a sort of creamy, chocolatey, fruit dessert for John and a tres chocolate for Bob. Within a few minutes of our sitting down the restaurant had filled but we thought 3 waitresses, a barman and a bossy boss were a bit excessive given the small size of the place. Apart from being thoroughly enjoyable, it was a lot cheaper than eating in the Parador. It started to rain on the walk back and the sodden map took us the wrong way again. We have clearly become too dependent on GPS. John's back was grumpy again but we made it back, safe and sound and not too damp!

We woke this morning to yet more rain. We had breakfast and then got packed. Luckily the car was parked near the front door so we could load it up without getting too wet. Remarkably our journey to Córdoba was on an enjoyable 'N' ('A') road all the way. It got busier as we got closer to Córdoba but it was a very pleasant drive. And it stopped raining, AND the sun came out.... just a bit. At first we sailed through open country with many ploughed fields (for cereals), olive groves with trees from babies to ancients, vines for wine, and then forests of what we took to be carob trees. We saw a lot of sheep and some brown cows (how now?). And we even saw an, apparently, working coal mine. Who knew that coal was being mined in Córdoba Province? For most of its length this road was covered by average speed cameras. Many of us stuck to the speed limit. Many didn't. Maybe they know something we didn't?


As it was still dry when we arrived at the Parador, we decided to get a taxi asap into the historic centre. More on that tomorrow but, pleased to say, apart from the odd shower, it stayed dry for us and the hoards of visitors. We had failed to account for the fact that this weekend is a "puente" or bridge or long weekend, it being Día de Todos Los Santos tomorrow and it's customary for Spaniards to have the weekend away (unless they decided to do the more traditional thing and take very expensive flowers to their forebears' graves). It would seem that at least half of them decided to come to Córdoba! Our taxi driver on the way home assured us that tomorrow afternoon they would all be leaving for home. Hooray!! And long may the rain stay away and come again another day. But not tomorrow or the next 3 days. I'm afraid the forecast still looks grim.... watch this space.

And just to finish: once again we have a splendid room with its own closet! It has a balcony with a terrific view towards this city of some 375,000 souls.


Posted by Johnash 17:04 Archived in Spain Tagged cordoba merida parador zafra Comments (8)

Getting wet in Zafra

The rain in Spain is set to continue.

rain 18 °C

Room 216, Parador de Zafra
Friday 29th October 2021

Again, thank you for all the comments. Very much appreciated!

The forecast is for rain each day for the rest of our trip. But we carry on regardless, brollies and waterproofs at the ready.

Returning to yesterday. Our planned visit to Huelva capital was abandoned due to Bob's dental problem but we had been umming and aahing about whether it was worth a visit anyway. Bob's appointment with Christina was at 1pm so we drove to the small town of Lepe, as recommended by Pepe at Cafe Bulevar, our local in Puerto de Mazarrón. And worth a visit it certainly was. A lot of the people were odd and mask-wearing was at the lowest we've seen anywhere. However, it's a very nice town and all were friendly. Bob later learned from Christina and her sister that they were originally from Lepe but they didn't like the people!


Then it was time for Bob's appointment. He went in at 1pm and by 2.40 John was beginning to worry that he had been abducted or something. He eventually called Bob and it emerged he was just paying for his treatment (a mere 55€) and was about to leave.

We then decided to visit Isla Christina, also recommended by Pepe. This is a summer resort with an old town associated with it. It all looked nice and we could see men and women out wading looking for shellfish, we assumed. The infrastructure, however, appeared to have been set up on the cheap and was badly in need of repair. But it was a lovely spot, full of interesting views.


We then returned to "downtown" Ayamonte in the quest for a very late lunch or very early dinner. This was to prove a challenge. As with most of Spain, the kitchens were just closing (4pm) and would not be-reopening till at least 7.30pm. We eventually found a busy pasteleria which had a menu of 'montaditos', small hot rolls. We had a couple of those each plus a piece of cheesecake (Bob) and a "coca" (John), a local Ayamonte cake containing a lot of cabello de ángel, or “angel’s hair” which you can buy in jars from Mercadona. It's a sort of jam with chewy bits in. Very nice!


It was then time to return to the Parador to catch up on the Blog. As it happened, the day that started off a bit disastrously, turned into a most enjoyable potter.

This morning, after breakfast and changing our mind which route to take, we started off for Zafra in Badajoz province in the Communidad of Extremadura. Again a lot of emptiness, then, after about 30 minutes the rain started. We had low cloud and were unable to see what landscape we were driving through, though it still did look empty.


We did see sheep roaming and then cattle in fields. We also spotted a pair of eagles and a number of other birds of prey. We also spotted, but failed to photograph, several storks' nests, one balanced precariously on the very top of an electricity pylon and two others on a church tower.

We arrived in the small town of Zafra and easily found the 15thC Palacio de los Duques de Feria which is now the Parador. Our room was not quite ready so we had a quick drink in the bar. We then found our room on the first floor at the end of the building. It's a corner room with two sets of large windows and balconies (and a third window plus shutters and balcony in the bathroom! Bog with a view).


We wandered out in heavy rain, trying to find the Plaza Grande, which is the centre of town with a number of nice restaurants. Our map got sodden and the sodden map took us in the wrong direction! We eventually got there and managed to find a table in the dry for a drink. We then moved round the corner to the Bendita which specialises in a huge selection of cheeses. We tried a couple of tapas of their cabra curado FUERTE. Our mouths are still recovering.


To stay dry, we're eating in the Parador tonight and will try one of the local restaurants tomorrow. The plan is to explore the city of Mérida. Wish us some dry weather for that, please!


And we just spotted a storks' nests from our window!


¡Buenos noches!


Posted by Johnash 16:22 Archived in Spain Tagged extremadura parador 2021 zafra badajoz Comments (8)

Filling time

after a day up the river

sunny 24 °C

Room 102, Parador de Ayamonte
Thursday, 28th October 2021

Once again, thank you so much for all the comments. It means a lot to hear back from you!

We were having an enjoyable breakfast this morning in the Parador, and Bob was chewing on some pomegranate seeds, when he realised it wasn't pomegranate seeds but a bit of filling. We asked at reception if they could recommend a dentist. "Christina" they said but we could not get through. We tried another and they said "maybe next week". So we went out in the car, found a dental clinic and it turned out to be Christina's. Her sister was nurse and receptionist and, yes, could squeeze Bob in at 1pm. Long story short and only 55€ lighter in pocket, and Bob has a new very large filling (which took well over an hour and included XRay etc and the time of Christina and her sister!). So our planned trip to Huelva was postponed, but more of today in the next episode. By the way, it emerged that Christina and family holiday every year in Águilas!


So back to yesterday....

We drove up on the Spanish side of the river Guadiana, though we could only get close to it twice. The roads had been resurfaced but were real roller coasters and the countryside was all but empty, bar the couple of villages we got to visit on the riverside.


The first was Sanlúcar de Guadiana which had a small hotel a couple of bars and a small ferry over to Portugal. On the other bank was the small town of Alcoutim which is the largest municipality in Portugal with the lowest population density. And we can vouch that, on both sides of the river, the countryside was empty of human and animal life. Yes, "empty" is the best description of the areas we drove through.


We drove away from the river, then followed the next dead end back down to the river at Puerto de La Laja where there was a small hamlet, some washing on the line, and an old man fishing. This was the location of old maganese mines and the rotting timber is all that remains of a busy wharf which saw that product being shipped down the river.


Through the shortest tunnel in the world, across the little bridge and into Portugal for the first time ever. Not a soul around.


Here the border is no longer formed by the river Guadiana which diverts fully into Portugal. Instead we crossed a small tributary which marks the frontier, such as it is.

This is typical of many of the roads we covered, in both Spain and Portugal. Empty, empty, empty!


Though we did reach civilisation in the form of the historic town of Mértola. A very nice and friendly town and the only place with any significant population until we got back to the coast. A main occupation here seemed to be standing, staring and chatting. And the shops we looked into were very odd. Mostly a muddle with very little stock. But we felt comfortable here and sat and enjoyed a cold drink while we watched a street sweeper spend nearly an hour brushing up a few leaves. Most of the time he was standing, staring and chatting! Wonderful!!


Quite a long drive down mainly empty, bumpy roads, brought us back opposite Ayamonte and down to its "sister" town over the river, Vila Real de Santo António. We were just in time for lunch and got a table at the rapidly filling 'O Pescador' restaurant. Portuguese, it would seem, start lunch an hour earlier than Spaniards (due to the clocks being an hour behind??). We both had Choco Frito (fried cuttlefish) followed by what we thought were natas, or little custard tarts, but which turned out to be a sort of torched foamy cream. Quite nice though!


We then drove down to Tavira and back but were pretty unimpressed with this section of the Algarve coast it being muddly and messy and busy. We were quite pleased to be heading back over the bridge, back home to Spain!


Though the Portuguese language looks similar to Spanish, we now know that it sounds very very different. Indeed, we thought people were speaking Russian at first! Maybe all those Russians we've heard in the past were, instead, Portuguese!

We popped into the local Mercadona this afternoon and it was interesting to note that the car park was full of Portuguese cars. So they pop over for some retail therapy at the Spanish Mercadona! Not sure how they get on with the language!!

Tomorrow we move on. Next stop, Zafra in Extremadura. Unfortunately it looks like we have a few rainy days ahead. See you soon.


Posted by Johnash 17:54 Archived in Portugal Tagged spain portugal parador 2021 Comments (10)

As far as you can go in Spain

...without getting wet

sunny 24 °C

Tuesday/Wednesday 26/27th Otober, 2021
Room 102, Parador de Ayamonte

Yes, we are right on the watery border between Spain and Portugal, formed by the impressively wide, and wet, even blue Guadiana river. Until 1991, the only way to cross into Portugal here was by ferry boat. Then the new bridge took most of the ferrymen's livelihood away. However, the ferry still runs and we're hoping to get on board whilst we're here. We have 3 nights in the modern Parador set above the river.

Mention has been made that there has been a lack of food pictures. (Usually the complaints are there are too many!). So here is a report from the previous night's meal in the Parador de Antequera. Amongst our fellow guests were 3 large tables of Americans. Apparently, they are there for 7 nights, and touring the cities which are well within reach of Antequera, including Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba and Ronda.

Bob chose a starter of Parrillada de verduras de primavera (it being otoño, never mind).


The grilled veg were excellent and included cooked lettuce, a first for Bob. John had Paté de caza mermalada de casera de papaya y torta romero. Quite nice pate though it was rather sloppy, served with delicious papaya jam and crispy biscuits.


For mains, Bob had Chipirones con sofrito de verduras y ali-oli de ajo negro. The squid were good but he had not been aware he was eating ali-oli made with black garlic. (No picture as he'd half eaten it before we remembered).

John had magret de pato, cus cus estafado y manzana baby. Flavourful duck but a little chewy. The stars were the baby apples, which I thought were olives, which set the duck and couscous off a treat.


For afters Bob had a delicious Tarta árabe con sorbete de granada. A triumph of a dessert with pomegranate sorbet.


And, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Parador's Amigos club, John could not fail to chose the 25 años de amistad con chocolate, yogur y almendra. A fab white chocolate mousse with a blob of dark chocolate hiding in the middle.


Departing from Antequera, we left "sierra after sierra" country behind to cross vast flat, open plains where cereals and olives are grown. We saw a lot of very tiny olive trees planted very close together so speculated that these vast hectares are being used as nurseries and the young trees will then be transplanted to olive groves for oil production later.


The receptionist when we checked out mentioned we should visit Carmona on the way. Luckily we entered through the Puerta de Córdoba which led right into the old town where we managed to park. A short walk took us to the bustling square full, mostly, of old men passing the day chatting. We think the place is full of nunneries and these are being used to look after "jubilados". It was a splendid hour or so wandering the narrow streets and wondering if we'd find the car again.


Luckily we did and the next challenge was getting round Sevilla. The road network was like a load of knitting which had been dropped and got completely tangled. As we crossed a suspension bridge we were surprised to see sea-going cargo ships and stacks of containers. We had no idea that Seville was an inland port.


A note about motorways. They each have completely different characters. We enjoyed the first stretch which was quite new but was more like a F1 track with sharp bends, pit straights and chicanes (well maybe not the chicanes). But it was fun to drive. After Sevilla, the road was busy and rather boring but the traffic gradually petered out and we noted pine trees had taken over from other vegetation. Lots of pine trees!

And here's an oddity. Round Mazarrón, we see an awful of of "new" cars ('L' letter). On the way here, not so many new cars but, bizarrely, nearly every lorry we've seen has been an 'L' (new) reg. Hmmm?!


We checked into the Parador and were surprised to find our room was almost off the reception area. Wow, what a room with opening doors and steps down to a lawn round the pool with stunning views towards the River Guadiana and its bridge. It emerged we had been upgraded to a "mini-suite". Very nice.


Later we got a taxi into Ayamonte itself. Well worth the 5€ (no tip expected), to save any hassle with narrow streets and trying to park. It would have been a bustling port on the river but now it's a nice, busy town, if slightly faded round the edges. We got a taxi back and had dinner in the Parador. Maybe pictures of that meal in the next episode.


Thank you so much for your comments and sticking with us!

Posted by Johnash 15:53 Archived in Spain Tagged parador ayamonte Comments (14)

Parador de Antequera

The fabulous road to Granada and beyond.

sunny 24 °C

Room 116, Parador de Antequera
Monday, 25th October 2021

Before we start, a big thank you for all the comments and good wishes. Very heartening to hear back from you!


We have stopped before at this un-historic Parador on the edge of this very historic town, founded before the Romans turned up. For those not too familiar with Paradors, the chain is a government-owned series of hotels, which was started in 1928 by Alfonso XIII. The idea was to preserve historic buildings and attract visitors to Spain. Some were purpose-built, like this one, but many involved conversion of historic castles, palaces, abbeys etc into comfortable hotels. There are 94 of them.

To get here, we took one of our very favourite roads, towards Granada. A lovely, swooping road with very little traffic. It gets a bit busy and commercial on either side of Granada but then the landscape becomes even more spectacular with sierra after sierra filling the landscape. Armies of almond trees are replaced by battalions of olive groves. With so many almond trees round our way either being taken out or allowed to die, it was heartening to see the almond groves lovingly maintained. Large areas of old ones had been taken out, to be replaced with young trees. We guess the old trees go for firewood. The same was happening with olive trees.


We stopped at a vast tourist hotel's cafeteria for coffee and tostada. Not quite like the heaving and expensive motorway service centres in UK and France.


We turned off the main motorway before Antequera to come over the top, visiting the area known as "El Torcal", renowned for its limestone formations and spectacular views. Arthur has always been interested in limestone formations, NOT! We drove up the winding road to the visitor centre and were amazed to find the car park all-but full. Goodness knows what it would be like at the weekend. A swarm of Belgians on motorbikes thought they had exclusive rights to the use of that road. John thought otherwise.


A winding drive down the other side brought us to the outskirts of Antequera where we admired the amazingly preserved Alcazaba, the Muslim fortress from when the Moors were in charge here in Spain.


Our trusty Garmin GPS brought us safely to the Parador where check-in took a while due to "slow computers". Having enjoyed an excellent club sandwich for late lunch, we are about to get a taxi into town to have a couple of coffees and do a bit more gentle exploring.


This smashing journey has served to remind us how spectacular our home country is. We do forget, quite often!

More soon.

Posted by Johnash 15:12 Archived in Spain Tagged antequera parador Comments (12)

Paradors - here we come!

At last. A trip away! First time since lock-down.

sunny 25 °C

Thursday, October 21st
Bag End

We're writing this blog in lieu of daily posts on Facebook which tends to give the game away to nasty people who might be viewing!

So please bear with your blogger. He'll try and keep it short and sweet and will post a few pictures from our trip round SW Spain. West is left, I think? (Points finger in that direction). I always have to check. I know north from south, left and right, but not east and west. Why is that? My friend Eric at work didn't know his left from his right so, when he belatedly took his driving test, he had to get someone to write a big 'L' and 'R' on his hands so he'd know which way to turn when instructed to do so my the examiner. As I recall, he passed!

This trip was booked a while ago when not many were travelling so we got some bargain deals with Parador.es. It helps being a member of their "Amigos" club which gives free nights and discounts, especially for really ancient people! Free to join, folks!

We start with a night in Antequera (Málaga) then on for 3 nights in Ayamonte (Huelva province) which sits above the river that forms the border between Spain and Portugal. So we will be able to have our first ever trip into that country.

Then on to the smallish town of Zafra (Badajoz) in the region of Extremadura.

Next is the famously magnificent city of Córdoba with its incredible Mosque/Cathedral.

Finally we will be re-visiting Ronda (not the Welsh misspelling of a town), back in Málaga province before returning to Bag End after 10 nights away.

If you would like to be deleted from the mailing list, please let us. No offence caused! But we hope you will join us on our new little adventure in our wonderful home country of Spain (and Portugal!).

Here at Bag End, the big old almond lost most of its leaves in June, then grew some more back. Now it's starting to blossom. Madness!

If you've got any comments, they are always welcome, please! Your first one won't appear immediately, but subsequent ones should do so! Thank you.



Posted by Johnash 09:18 Archived in Spain Comments (15)

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