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Friday, July 28, 2017

EXPLORING ESPANA (WITHOUT GR2)


It is a bit of a shock to our systems to actually travel without our house on wheels! John has booked a small car from Zaragoza, so we collect it and head off. Almost randomly we head towards Soria. The idea is to do rough loop around Madrid ending back in Zaragoza in a few days to check on GR2. At least the tiny car gives us the freedom to drive right into the old centre of town, instead of parking & walking in.

Our best find of the day is the town of Taragoza. We explore the Old Jewish Quarters with some remaining hanging houses, stubble across the gorgeously decorated town hall, look at the old bull ring built with townhouses as the outer wall & visit the amazing old Cathedral. Once in Soria we head to the Info Centre where we get booked in to a cheapish hotel. All easy peasy. We are right in the old centre & can explore as much as we like on foot. Great dinner out –beginning after 9pm of course! Final explore in the morning before heading out, this time on to Burgos – a much bigger city.  Our first stop is at the town of El Burgo de Osama. There is a lovely long curvy pedestrian street filled with meandering locals. A huge plaza with a seriously lovely cathedral (they all lovely here!) & to our surprise a long wall outside of town that we would have missed if we hadn’t gone to find the old Roman bridge & hilltop castle ruins. Then head through a gorge via tiny back roads – lots of hikes here, but at 36deg way too hot to explore. But do get great views of the castle.

Finally arrive at Burgos, but find we cannot book a hotel at the Info Centre & have to trudge from hotel to hotel to find one. It is Friday night & the place is busy. In future, we will book ahead!  Finally, off to explore this gorgeous city. We end the day with beer, sangria & delicious tapas!  Oh & another stop to watch the Festival of Ethnic Dance. John is suitably bored.

Great buffet breakfast. Even copy the locals by making up ham & cheese bread rolls to take for lunch. Bonus! Then off to explore again. Phew – over an hour in the ginormous Cathedral, then head up to explore the Castillo de Bugos on the top of the hill with great views of the city. Time to move on. We are booked in to a hotel in Segovia tonight. But first a stop at Covarrubias to wander the streets of this tiny half-timbered town. Then the Monastery at San Domingo de Silos. It is getting late, so time to move on, but we can’t resist stopping when we see the ruined castle at Turegano & have to explore it. Finally, Segovia. Our hotel is just off the main plaza – awesome spot. Of course, there is no parking at any of these hotels & John has to find one on the street. Overnight it is free, but during the day in Segovia he has to feed the machine every hour – so a quick visit to the Cathedral, then the Alcazar – totally renovated of course, but still amazing, before we head out of town. One final stop –  the famous Aqueduct. Even though we have been here years ago I can’t resist getting more photos.

By now we have had an overload of Cathedrals & Castles – maybe a nice long drive would be a pleasant change. So, we find a scenic route through the Sierra de Guadarrama’s towards Avila, where we are booked in to a Palace for the night (John has done well!) Even time for a siesta before heading out to walk along the much-renovated city walls, followed by tapas at a popular bar. For every drink you order, you get a free tapa. The rolled stuffed pancakes are the best tonight.

 We are now heading to Cuenca via the old walled city of Toledo. Park right within the walled city (something impossible to do in GR2) We head off to explore this lovely old city &find somewhere for lunch. It is pretty hot, so we are more than happy to get back to the car to continue to Cuenca. Here our very cheap hotel has an awesome view of the old town. We head off to explore finally finding the houses hanging over the cliffs that we remember visiting years ago. Hurry back to our hotel as a storm blows in.

Today we need to get back to GR2 to check progress & return our car. John will be glad to see the back of it – he claims it is the worst rental car (a Nissan Micra built in India) he has ever had. Not counting the one in Cuba – which was in a class all of its own.  So, we set the GPS and drive – a truly magic drive through rocky gorges before getting onto motorway. Phew get back to the workshop just before siesta (and they really do close down everything & lock all the doors). Good & bad news. They know what the problem is, but need to order more parts from Italy, so we can’t have GR2 back yet!

Back to Zaragoza to drop off the car and regroup. Can’t decide what to do next, so we book a hotel right in the old town in Zaragoza & taxi in. This city is surprisingly fun to explore so we stay 2 nights & slow down a bit. We throw around ideas – train to Barcelona, but hotels are in high demand so expensive, & it will be crowded. Fly to Mallorca & sit on the beach – again heavily booked & we think we will be bored after a day or two. Finally, John books a car (a better one this time – and they upgrade us to a new BMW 318d Bonus!) & hotels for the next few nights.

We head off through the Pyrenees – another winding back route all the way to Andorra, where we are booked. We remember lots of shops, but they have multiplied since 2006. In the morning shoppers are flocking in. A wander around before finding more back routes to explore – this time heading to Carcassonne in France. It has been on my wish list for a while as the pictures look amazing. We have 2 nights in a hotel with a mini kitchen & there is a swimming pool. We can buy some groceries & eat in our room…. So enjoyable.

It takes most of the day to explore La Citi (the walled city of Carcassonne) & naturally the place is packed. After all we have come on a Sunday in school holidays. The whole place is renovated/restored/improved, but a great visit. Now we need to start looping back towards Zaragoza (fingers crossed – we really want GR2 back soon. We miss our bed & home cooked meals, not to mention our freedom.)

Our next night is booked in a Chateau in the mountains so we meander along back roads, finally heading over some very tiny narrow roads to our hotel which a bit disappointing. Our expectations are high for a Chateau! The weather has been on/off showers today – so sorry no decent photos. John wakes feeling a bit under the weather (and don’t even suggest I drive!! That would be total madness) so we decide to drive the short distance to Huesca & stay here. It is not too far from the workshop and it ends up a great decision as this place is a good size so has lots of places to explore, very few tourists & a swimming pool. We head out to explore town & the surrounds while impatiently waiting for GR2. The lull also gives John time to recover from his bug.

One fun trip is out to the Castillo de Loarre. A truly amazing castle set atop a jagged outcrop. Finally, on Thursday we drive to the workshop…. If it isn’t ready tomorrow we are looking at going to Barcelona, but thank goodness we should have GR2 back tomorrow night. Then we will be able to high tail down to Morocco……

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