Have Bag, Will Travel
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“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination. White sierras, goatheards, dungeons of the Inquisition, Moorish palaces, black winding trains of mules, grey olive trees and groves of lemon, girls in black mantillas, cathedrals, cardinals, bullfights, gypsies, serenades – in short, Spain.” – George Orwell
I have seen Roman ruins advertised before and sometimes they can be quite disappointing so I didn’t have high expectations of those in Carmona but they turned out to be a real surprise. It wasn’t the Aqueduct of Segovia or anything of the scale of Segóbriga or Mérida of course but there were extensive excavations and a museum with an informative film about the Romans in Andalusia and the significance of this place.
It was principally an ancient Roman burial site or necropolis near the Seville road that was discovered in 1881 and there was also the site of what had been a rather large amphitheatre. The best part of all was that there was free admission and we spent well over an hour to look around the site.
It seemed that we had underestimated the town of Carmona and there was a great deal more to do here than we had originally thought.
Close to the fortress gate there was a little bodega that we had picked out earlier for lunch. The Abacería L’Antiqua was full to overflowing and heaving with activity and just as we were pondering whether or not to stay a table became available and we elbowed our way through the wall of people and made ourselves comfortable. The food looked good and the bar was doing brisk trade so we selected some items from the tapas menu and waited for our food to arrive.
All around the bar there were barrels of sherry and this is something else that Andalusia is famous for.
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez on the coast. In Spanish, it is called Vino de Jerez and according to Spanish law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy and because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol. So now you know!
The food arrived quickly and it was delicious and we enjoyed it so much that we ordered second plates of those we liked best and more drinks. The bodega was a vibrant and effervescent place with people of all age groups and whole families enjoying their Sunday lunchtime gathering and we enjoyed the garrulous atmosphere and just being a part of it all.
But we couldn’t stay all afternoon because there were still things to see.
At the fortress we fished around in our pockets for the admission fee only to be told that today the entrance was free, so how glad we were that we hadn’t visited yesterday. It wasn’t a big castle but it was a good place to visit with commanding views in all directions across the Andalusian plain. This place had been chosen well as a castle of strategic importance. It had been restored and modernised of course, some time in the 1970s, but that didn’t spoil it one little bit. The sky was blue and it was warmer today so we had a good time climbing the towers and taking in the breathtaking views
I especially wanted to retrace our car journey of the first evening and we found the very narrow street and wondered just how we had managed to negotiate it without adding to the cars dents and scratches.
Practically every car in the town had some form of damage either from scraping past walls or from other cars squeezing past and a very high proportion of them had had their wing mirrors removed and were now only kept in place with sticky tape. This wasn’t the sort of place to live if you are at all fussy about the appearance of your car.
We found Micky in San Fernando Square sitting on a bench in the sunshine with a red nose and flu weary eyes and looking very forlorn. The man from Bar Plaza saw us and told us he had prepared paella for this evening but unfortunately for him we were determined to return to the Abacería L’Antiqua and so he had missed his opportunity.
We went first to the Forum Bar, which was busy and then walked to the Bodega, which was empty. The contrast from the lunchtime bustle made the place almost unrecognisable and although other diners began to drift in the place never achieved the sociable levels of lunchtime. We ordered some repeat dishes and experimented with some different ones and the food was equally as good and we stayed all evening before going back to the hotel for our final night at the San Fernando.
“…anyone that knows Spain will be aware of the frequency of the marriage in which the wife is deeply pious and the husband is irreligious. This is indeed a fairly normal situation. The man’s sense of self-esteem conflicts sharply with the teachings of the Church, while he is irritated by its many small, fussy rules and regulations, which treat him, he feels, as though he were a child.” – Gerald Brennan – ‘South From Granada‘
Once again it rained heavily in the night but by morning it had cleared when I went out into the street to check the weather. There were blue skies and as this was Sunday there was a church bell ringing with frosty clarity and calling people to service as I wandered aimlessly about checking the breakfast options in the little bars around the square.
The only place open was the Bar Plaza so we returned there for the fourth time and had the same breakfast as the previous day except that due to a misunderstanding we ordered way too much Serrano Ham and ended up with far more than we really needed and a much bigger bill than we anticipated.
The bad news this morning was that Micky had gone down with a nasty little case of man flu and he wasn’t feeling very good at all. This was the strain that affects the sense of humour and social skills and after breakfast Mick invited us to go out without him. Naturally we said we would do no such thing and then as we watched his normally stoic temperament evaporating in front of us he demanded firmly that we should go out without him and we took the hint.
We were planning to go for another drive out, possibly to the town of Ronda but this didn’t seem fair so the rest of us decided instead to stay and explore Carmona instead. We weren’t sure that there would be enough to do to keep us amused all day so we walked very slowly from the hotel towards the eastern gate of the old town, the Puerto de Córdoba which is of part Roman construction.
Because Carmona is built on an elevated ridge overlooking the central plain of Andalusia the view beyond the gate opens to a glorious vista of the surrounding countryside which today entertained us with the drama of magnificent skies.
The welcome warmth of the sun was in contrast to the chilly shade of the street and we stayed a while and admired the view and warmed ourselves up before going back through the gate and climbing steadily towards the Alcázar Del Rey Don Pedro, which is an old castle at the top of the town that has been converted to a luxury Parador hotel. We went inside and admired the lounges and the restaurant and the stunning view from the balcony but it didn’t seem that they particularly welcomed non-paying guests so we quickly left and carried on.
Next around the southern rim of the town and there were more good views over the plain and we sat for a while and soaked up more weak sunshine that was struggling to get up to full late morning temperature. Our route took us now to the Alcázar de la Puerto de Sevilla, which was the western gate protecting the entrance to the old town and then we walked for a little way into the new town because I wanted to take the girls shopping but sadly on account of this being Sunday they were mostly closed. I was desperately disappointed about that as you can probably imagine.
There seemed to be strange goings on in the main town square because it was full of men just standing around and chatting in groups and making an enormous din as they competed with each other to be heard about the great political issues of the day or the previous day’s football results perhaps.
Mostly elderly men because as Gerald Brennan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.” This was obviously a Sunday morning ritual while wives attended Church and the street corners and the public squares were overflowing with men all in animated conversation waiting for the service to end.
Brennan also explains that – “At bottom the husband almost always approves of his wife’s devoutness, is aware that he is only playing truant and that, after a lifetime shrugging his shoulders at the Church, he will return to it in time to receive its last sacraments.”
Back at the Puerto de Sevilla there was a sunny pavement with café tables so we stopped for a drink before going back to the hotel to see if there was any sign of Micky. There was none so we continued our walk around the town without him, this time back to the Roman ruins about a half a mile away back in the same direction that we had just returned from.
I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never go again. This is what I said…
“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”
Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Why did I go back on my statement – return flights for less than £40 each are just too good to resist and nothing beats getting on a plane with temperatures hovering around zero and then getting off again three hours later into 20°, blue sky, sunshine and swaying palm trees.
We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.
After picking up the rental car we headed immediately to the Autopista del Sol,an ugly, charmless toll road which conveniently by-passes the congested coast road and moves traffic from east to west with brutal efficiency. It reminded me of what Laurie Lee had to say about it: “The road to Malaga followed a beautiful but exhausted shore, seemingly forgotten by the world. I remember the names, San Pedro, Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola. They were salt-fish villages, thin ribbed, sea hating, cursing their place in the sun. At that time one could have bought the whole coast for a shilling. Not Emperors could buy it now.”
We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast. Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies on both occasions. So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.
Also in June…
I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again. I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.
I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation in Borth because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen and after preparing and enjoying a full English breakfast I walked out with a spring in my step on a voyage of rediscovery.
At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.
This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them destroy someone else’s place instead. I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.
We had not visited the Cyclades Islands in Greece since 2011 and so we were interested to see what changes there might be in five years.
We no longer choose to fly to Athens because there is always the risk of industrial action on the buses or the metro or the ferries, or getting caught up in a demonstration in the city centre as we did in 2011, so this year we flew instead to Mykonos, a popular tourist destination in the centre of the island group.
South Wales isn’t new to me of course, I studied history at Cardiff University between 1972 to 1975, worked a summer season at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island and I have visited several times since but on this occasion I was travelling with my good friend who hails from the Rhondda Valley and he had promised to show me some things that I might not otherwise have expected to see. A privileged insider’s view as it were!
Also in October…
I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence. I love it I went several times in the 1990s on family holidays and I returned for the first time since then in 2015. I hoped that Kim would love it too and as it happened she liked the place so much that we returned for a second time in October 2016.
My sister, Lindsay, more or less lives permanently in Spain now on the Costa Blanca so this provided a perfect opportunity to go and visit her and spend some time in a part of Spain that I haven’t visited for several years. I have never considered it one of favourite parts of the country so I was interested to see what impression it would make this time!