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We’re back to explore more of Spain

Note: There will be two posts today as this one is not as long as most and the next, Gibraltar, is short. 

November 1st, 2023

After arriving safely from the Canary Islands around 12:30 am back to Minou and sleeping okay, we were up after 8:30, unpacked, had tea and said our goodbye to our host, Luis.  This experience couldn’t have gone much better. We’ve given them a great review on iOverlander for future travelers looking for a place to store.  Luis advised that today is a holiday in Spain (All Saint’s Day) so we hope traffic will be lighter than normal towards the capital city for a Wednesday.

It was an overcast day and it felt quite cool to us after the Canary Islands – the temp when we got home last night was 6C / 43F and this morning it’s 10C / 50F with a high of only 14C / 57F.

We saw that the forecast was worse for tomorrow with a 90% chance of rain all day so we hightailed it to the aire we’d found on park4night south of Madrid that charges €8 for 24.  From there you can take a bus or metro or cab into the city.  Since Madrid has a low emissions zone, we cannot go into the city itself.

We arrived and the place was not even one quarter full – the app reports that there are 45 spaces and there are maybe 10 vehicles here.  You enter through a secure gate taking a ticket and you pay by credit card upon leaving.  There is no power but there is cassette and grey dumping as well as water (neither of the latter which we need today).  We got parked, and figuring that today was a holiday and that public transport might be on a lesser schedule, decided to splurge and take an Uber.  That got us into the city way faster as well.  We arrived about 11:10 and spent nearly three hours checking out the sights in the core of the city.  We wore our down jackets as the wind didn’t help the temperature today (yes we are pussies!)

After the Uber dropped us off we saw a curious site:

This is called the “Vecino Curioso” (the curious neighbour).  He was looking into some ruins of an old church.

We walked over to Spain’s Royal Palace and the large Cathedral de la Almudena.  There were many people here, probably due to the holiday.

The Spanish royal family, a branch of the House of Bourbon, is headed by King Felipe VI.  The current royal family consists of King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, their children (Leonor, Princess of Asturias and Infanta Sofía of Spain), and Felipe’s parents, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía. The royal family lives at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, although their official residence is the Royal Palace of Madrid.

The church on the grounds was built in the late 19th century but was interrupted during the Spanish Civil war and than left unfinished until 1950.  It was completed in 1993 and consecrated by Pope John Paul II.  It was built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083. 

The area around the palace is full of things to see with lots of parks and war memorials, and statues (of people we don’t know) and a fountain.

At the end of the promenade was the Temple of Debod.

The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled as part of the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia and rebuilt here. 

The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Aswan in Nubia. In the early 2nd century BC, construction started by building a small single-room chapel dedicated to the god Amun.  From the quay, there is a long processional way leading to the stone-built enclosure wall, through three stone pylon gateways, and finally to the temple itself. The pronaos, which had four columns with composite capitals, collapsed in 1868 and is now lost. Behind it lay the original sanctuary of Amun, the offering table room and a later sanctuary with several side-rooms and stairs to the roof.

In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the Temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.

The temple was opened to the public in 1972. The reassembled gateways have been placed in a different order than when originally erected. Compared to a photo of the original site, the gateway topped by a serpent-flanked sun was not the closest gateway to the temple proper. It constitutes one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain.

Since we have been to Egypt and seen many such temples, we opted not to go inside today (and the line was pretty long!).

Walking away from the Temple at the top of a staircase we noticed four people standing there.  An older couple was arguing with two well dressed young women and the man was accusing her of stealing his wallet.  As we approached, she threw it on the ground and claimed he “dropped it”.  But we saw it as did the wife of the man doing the accusing and told her so.  Doug began to yell “policia, policia” and the two girls just sauntered away! The man thanked us for our help and we went on our way.  A little further down the promenade we saw a police car, stopped it and reported what happened to them.

Madrid may not have a lot of sights to attract tourists (like Barcelona and Valencia) but it does have a good number of architecturally pleasing buildings.

This is the Casa Gallardo:

Royal Theatre:

In the square stands a statue of Isabella II.

The Plaza Mayor is quite nice with consistent architecture all the way around it.  The only different building is the front of what used to be city hall with lovely paintings of mythical figures.

Here we partook of a Spanish treat which was perfect for this cold, damp day (it drizzled a bit on and off at times): Churros and chocolate.  It’s really thick hot chocolate – almost like pudding and you dip your churro in it.  Boy, that was yummy and indulgent:

We did notice and walk past many “characters” on the streets looking for people to pay for a photo with them – this was probably due to the holiday as well.

We made our way to Plaza Callao – which was like a mini Times Square with video billboards on many buildings.

Then we strolled along the Gran Via (Madrid’s 5th Avenue) – lots of eye candy with beautiful buildings and lots of shops and restaurants.  As we’ve seen since mid October in Andorra, Madrid too is ready with Christmas decorations already!

While we were near the palace earlier, Fran spotted someone with a Tim Hortons coffee cup!  WTH!?  Lo and behold on Google Maps we found three locations here in the city.  We tried to make it to one but our map was wrong or it was long gone but further along the Gran Via there was one:

While the style and branding is different, it’s “all Canadian” they say.  The selection is somewhat limited – no Maple Dip donuts!

We continued along the Via looking at the buildings:

And then we made it to the Bank of Spain.  We came here not only to see the building, but those of you who watched the Netflix series “Money Heist” (La Casa de Papel) will recognize this from the third and fourth seasons.  This is where the second big heist took place.

We were quite amazed that nowhere around this area was anyone selling Money Heist souvenirs!

By now we’d seen what we came to see and we called an Uber to go back.  The driver told us when we were half way back, that there was a different area of the city where you find the Money Heist stuff  – oh well.

We had the driver drop us at the mall nearby the aire and went to see if there was a cinema to see about watching a movie tonight but nothing indicated if the movies were subtitled or dubbed so we passed and returned to Minou.  On our walk back to the aire it began to rain and at times it was pretty hard overnight.

Today we passed through one long tunnel twice in the Uber ride to and from the city.

Thursday morning after exercising and showering, we dumped and filled our tanks and then made our way about 65 km  / 42 mi to the city of Toledo – yes “Holy Toledo Batman”!

We parked in a day parking lot outside the city walls (cost us €1.30 for an hour and a half as it’s free during “siesta time” which is 2 to 5pm.  Good deal!  The overcast skies had cleared and although it was really windy (42 km / 25 mi wind) it was sunny all afternoon during our visit.

Toledo is the capital of the province of Toledo.  It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.

Located on the banks of the Tagus in central Iberia, Toledo is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims, and Jews throughout its history. It was the capital, from 542 to 725 CE, of the Visigothic kingdom, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Toledo was also the location of historic events such as the Councils of Toledo and was labelled the “Imperial City” due to the fact that it was the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Spain. The city, the seat of a powerful archdiocese for much of its history, has a Gothic Cathedral, the Catedral Primada de España (“The Primate Cathedral of Spain”), and a long history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now common souvenirs of the city.

This city we just loved as well.  So much nice architecture and history.  After parking we stopped and gawked at the city walls and we walked across the stone bridge with a tower on each end.

We started by heading to the furthest point which was the Puente de Alcánara – an old Roman bridge with big gates:

We walked by many city walls and gates:

The Museo de Santa Cruz – Doug wandered to in to see some engineering and inventor displays:

A statue of Miguel de Cervantes:

Doug with Don Quiote:

We saw the Puerto de Sol and Puerto De Alfonso VI both city gates:

We went to see an old synagogue as we’ve never been in one but it turned out to be more of a museum than the actual synagogue.  There are only 3 left in Spain.

We walked by the Monastery of San Juan de los Reys which was quite large and interesting to look at:

This monastery was initially named “San Juan de la Reyna” and was conceived to be the mausoleum of the Catholic Monarchs. They would change their plans later, choosing Granada as their burial place, after its reconquest in 1492.

The monastery’s construction began in 1477 following plans drawn by architect Juan Guas, and was completed in 1504. It was dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist for use by Franciscan friars. In 1809 the monastery was badly damaged by Napoleon’s troops during their occupation of Toledo, and abandoned in 1835. Restoration began in 1883 but was not completed until 1967. The monastery was restored to the Franciscan order in 1954.  The adjacent church has a series of enormous coats of arms of the Catholic monarchs, who were never shy about self-publicising. Outside, note the chains dangling from the northeastern facade – they once belonged to Christian prisoners liberated from Muslim Granada.

After our visit, we decided to push on a bit further so as not to have as far to drive tomorrow and went about 80 km / 50 mi to a small town with a free aire – no power but there is dumping and filling.  There were about 10 spots and already 3 rigs parked so we grabbed the only one left that didn’t have a tree that would rub against Minou in the wind and got settled.  The rain began shortly after we arrived so we were quite lucky it had waited as it was hard rain.

Friday we awoke to clearing skies and some wind but not as strong.  We drove 258 km  / 160 mi to the city of Córdoba.  We found diesel at €1.495 per litre and filled up as most everywhere else its above 1.60.

As we drove the A4 known as the Autopista del Sur, we saw so many olive groves – after all Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives.

Spain is the largest olive producer in the world with 9,819,569 tonnes production per year.  Italy comes second with 1,877,222 tonnes yearly production.  With 1,561,465 tonnes of production per year, Morocco is the third largest producer of olive.

A little before reaching the city, Fran found diesel at €1.495 again! (pays to have an app) – so we filled up and we should be good till we get to Morocco next week where it’s supposed to be cheaper than Spain.

Córdoba is another city with a low emission zone so we had to watch how we entered the city and where we parked.  Luckily, Fran found three places just outside the zone where we could park and overnight.  We ended up in a small cemetery parking lot a short walk into the historic zone.  Unfortunately we as we backed into the spot, Minou’s taillight hit a post and Doug had some repair work to do.

The city is not that large and all the main sites are pretty close together so we set off on foot with umbrellas because although the sky was clearing and the forecast said low chance of precipitation, there were still a number of dark clouds.  If nothing else, the umbrellas would mean it won’t rain just because we brought them!

Córdoba is the capital of the province of Córdoba. The city primarily lies on the right bank of the Guadalquivir. Once a Roman settlement, it was taken over by the Visigoths  followed by the Muslin conquests in the eighth century and later becoming the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. During these Muslim periods, Córdoba was transformed into a world leading center of education and learning, and by the 10th century it had grown to be the second-largest city in Europe. Following the Christian conquest in 1236, it became part of the Crown of Castile.

Córdoba is home to notable examples of Moorish architecture such as the Mezquita-Catedral, which was named as a UNESCO site in 1984 and is now a cathedral. The site has since been expanded to encompass the whole of historic centre of the city.

Our first stop was the San Rafael bridge which was quite a site with a gate on one end and a tower on the other.  There were also a few mills and a water wheel in the area.

The gate was quite something and next to it was the statue of triumph:

The tower didn’t look like much from the bridge side but walked around it and saw the other side which was more impressive complete with a moat.

Next we passed by the Alcazar de los Reyes (Castle of the Christian Monarchs) but didn’t to inside. It was built in 1328

We walked over to the Plaza de Potro (again the further point we wanted to visit) where among the buildings overlooking the square is the famous Posada Del Potro, mentioned by Cervantes in Don Quixote.

And a cool looking alley called “Calleja de los Aqruillos” – meaning the little street with arches:

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba), officially known by its ecclesiastical name of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Córdoba dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and located in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Due to its status as a former mosque, it is also known as the Mezquita  and as the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

According to traditional accounts a Visigothic church, the Catholic Christian Basilica of Vincent of Saragossa, originally stood on the site of the current Mosque-Cathedral, although this has been a matter of scholarly debate. The Great Mosque was constructed in 785 on the orders of Abd al-Rahman I, founder of the Islamic Emirate and later Caliphate of Córdoba. It was expanded multiple times afterwards under Abd ar-Rahman’s successors up to the late 10th century. Among the most notable additions, Abd al-Rahman III added a minaret (finished in 958). The mosque was converted to a cathedral in 1236 when Córdoba was captured by the Christian forces of Castile during the Reconquista. The structure itself underwent only minor modifications until a major building project in the 16th century inserted a new Renaissance cathedral nave and transept into the center of the building. The former minaret, which had been converted to a bell tower, was also significantly remodeled around this time. Starting in the 19th century, modern restorations have in turn led to the recovery and study of some of the building’s Islamic-era elements. Today, the building continues to serve as the city’s cathedral and Mass is celebrated here daily.

Bird’s eye view from Google:

The mosque structure is an important monument in the history of Islamic architecture and was highly influential on the subsequent “Moorish” architecture of the western Mediterranean regions of the Muslim world. It is also one of Spain’s major historic monuments and tourist attractions, as well as a UNESCO site since 1984.

The mosque has a width of 130 m / 425’ and a length of 180 m / 590’ covering an area of 21,800 sq m / 235 sq’.  This makes it slightly large than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

The door we entered through and shots in the open area before entering the mosque/cathedral:

Now this is something to see!  It’s enormous and we figured it was the biggest church we’d ever been in but doing some research, it depends on what you read, as to that status.  Many lists claim that the Saint Peter’s is larger but we doubt that.

The inside is like a stone column forest – with lovely white and rust coloured arches.  There are still many Muslim touches but there are many chapels and Christian items inside.  It was quite a marvel to walk around.

We spent about a half hour walking around inside and then walked around the small streets and alleys before heading to our last spot, another synagogue – one of the other two remaining.  This was a smaller building that the museum we saw in Toledo and you could only go into the lower floor.

We had about 10 seconds of sprinkles and then we made it back to the parking lot and chilled for the rest of the day; all in all, another great city worth visiting in Spain.

We spent the afternoon planning next steps.

Sidebar:  we are making plans for how to spend our winter and the required days out of the Schengen.  As Christine and Mark are doing an organized tour of Morocco and we’d love to meet up with them, we have decided to cut our Schengen days short this time around so we can meet them in Casablanca mid-December.  This will give us over five weeks to explore most of Morocco before meeting up with them.  We will then be flying to Toronto for Christmas from Casablanca on the 20th.  We have decided to spend our winter  out of the Schengen.  In January we plan to fly to the Middle East and see some of those countries that we will not overland to like: Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc. (we would like to go to Israel/Palestine but that doesn’t seem wise right now…).  Also we have decided to go to the Maldives as a dream vacation with some of the money Fran inherited from her mom (her mom loved to travel and to travel comfortably and this is a trip we’d probably never want to spend the money on so we’ll do in her memory) and we will tag on Sri Lanka to that time.  There is also the idea of going to see KEGS in Uganda with our German friends for two weeks in February so we are going to be pretty busy moving around. 

We passed through two tunnels today.

After a bit of a soggy morning, we drove 148 km / 91 mi to the tiny village of El Chorro.  Here is the area in which you find the El Caminita del Rey.  By the time we approached the area, the roads were dry and the sky was clearing although the forecast still called for a 50% chance rain in the late evening.  The parking we found was a huge dirt lot with trees and we got one of the last spots.  It wasn’t great but it worked.  We thought we might move to a better spot if people left later in the afternoon.

After brunch, Fran went for a walk to find out how to catch the shuttle and when.  El Chorro is located at the end of the one way trail and you buy a shuttle bus ticket to get you to the beginning.  Even then you have to walk 1.5 km to the actual entrance; the Caminita is 3.3 km long and then you walk another 1.8 km back to El Chorro.  You can park at either end but you’ll have to bus one way or the other.

She found the information needed and walked towards the end point to where enroute there are kiosks and food and beverage vendors set up in the hopes of chatting with some to get the scoop.

She met a couple from Britain who advised that the hike takes 2-3 hours depending on if you have a guide or not (they did and they stopped a lot).  You have to get a ticket online for a specific time slot – they cost €14.50 per person.  We had hoped to do it today but there were no openings when we checked yesterday and Doug got the last one at 9:20 am tomorrow and the weather looks better for tomorrow.

By 5 pm the lot was emptying somewhat and we got a better parking spot for the night – most of the spots are shady but by now, the sun is behind the mountain anyway!

The Caminito del Rey is a pass built on the walls of the Gaitanes Gorge, in the province of Malaga. It is a pedestrian walkway of more than three kilometers (in addition to approximately 4 km of access), attached to the rock inside a canyon, with sections barely one meter wide, hanging up to 105 meters high above the river, in walls that become vertical.

The Chorro Hydroelectric Society, owner of the Gaitanejo and Chorro Falls, needed access to both to facilitate the passage of maintenance, material transportation and surveillance workers. The works began in 1901 and ended in 1905. The path began next to the railroad tracks and ran through the Gaitanes Gorge. Visits to the area became frequent while the reservoir was under construction between 1914 and 1921. Given the great beauty that could be seen along the path, the chief engineer decided to improve it and reform the bridge between the two sides of the gorge. These two rock walls are joined by the so-called “Balconcillo de los Gaitanes”. In 1921, King Alfonso XIII presided over the inauguration of the  reservoir, crossing the previously built road, or at least visited it. Since then, it began to be called Caminito del Rey.

The passage of time and the lack of maintenance took its toll on the Caminito. In the 1990s it was in a deplorable state, with the railing missing along almost its entire length, numerous sections destroyed and those that remained threatening to do so. Precisely this dangerousness was one of the factors that contributed to its fame. Many hikers saw a challenge and headed to El Chorro to explore the Caminito, and also its climbing area, one of the most important in Europe. This led to numerous accidents over the years, some fatal, and increased its black legend.

In 1999 and 2000, two fatal accidents occurred that cost the lives of four hikers and led to the closure of the access to the path, demolishing its initial section. This measure failed to stop hikers, who continued to find a way to access it by climbing. They also decreed a fine of €6,000 for traveling both on the closed path, and on the train tracks and tunnels through which you can return from the Caminito. After extensive renovations that took four years, the path was reopened in 2015.  

After our morning tea, we walked up to the shuttle bus on Saturday morning; we went early as we’d read that at times the bus can fill up and you have to wait for the next one which at this time of year is an hour later.  We made it with plenty of time to spare and it didn’t even fill up nor did it pick up anyone at the next stop.

When you get off the bus you back track a bit to a tunnel which is the start of the hike to the Caminita (no cars will fit through this):

Then you keep going and you get to another tunnel and after passing through that you reach the ticket point where the last bathrooms are until the end of the walk.

We both used the facilities and got in the line for the 9:20 check in.  They give you a helmet and a short safety briefing and if you are on your own like us, they let you go.

The trail quickly turns to the wooden boardwalks mounted to the side of the cliffs.  It’s very cool.

These go on for a while to a pinch point and then the gorge opens up and you are walking on a regular trail before reaching another narrow section and the boardwalks begin again after you walk through what used to be an old canal.

Then there’s a second section of cliffside boardwalks:

A short glass bottom section:

and a section where they’ve left the old boardwalk remains:

and here you can see the steep walls really well and the train bridges in the walls;

Then you reach another pinch point where there’s a bridge you go across to continue walking on the other side:

After crossing the bridge you climb up on the boardwalk to the exit point – called the South Access – and then you finish the walk back to El Chorro.

The whole route took us 90 minutes and it was very enjoyable and cool.  Since we had a morning departure there were times when the sun made it hard to take photos but we did anyway and the temperature was a good one for a hike.

View looking back:

While walking today we passed through the two tunnels mentioned above.

We highly recommend this experience!

Here are some of the views when we left El Chorro – the road was the same one we took on the shuttle but pics on the bus through the window were not great so we took some today:

We have booked a ferry to Morocco for Tuesday and we have one more stop to make to see Gibraltar which we will do on Monday.  Tonight we wanted power and Fran found an aire in Ronda with power and showers and laundry and we got there in about an hour.  It’s quite big for an aire – there are 40 spots and it was ¾ full when we arrived with some leaving and more arriving.  We got plugged in and Fran went to through the washing in while Doug made breakfast.

After we ate, Doug went to see the “Nuevo Puente” (new bridge) in this city and Fran finished the laundry (they even had a dryer!), did the dishes and we both showered when he got back.  The sun continued to shine all day but the temps did not seem to get past 21C / 72F but hey, it’s November!

the gorge:

The church in Ronda:

We awoke in the Aire in Ronda early while it was still dark, unplugged, dumped and filled our tanks and made our way to the coast to drive to Gibraltar.  We had a few stops to make before going on to Morocco and today we found propane to be sure we were full up as it’s almost impossible to get there.  As both tanks are full  now, we should be good to go.

We passed through one tunnel before the border.

AFTER GIBRALTOR:  (separate post) 

After returning to Minou, we went to a huge grocery store to pick up beer and a few other things for our time in Morocco.  We spent the night in a small parking lot in a residential area across from a smaller grocery store and next morning were up and out of there by 8 am to catch our ferry across the strait.  The ferry only takes an hour and goes from Spain to Spain – yes Spain to Spain as the city of Ceuta on the other side is a part of Spain (along with two other Mediterranean ports).

The cost for us and Minou was €183 for this ferry crossing.  It will be the first time we’ve taken a ferry from one continent to another!

We were at the terminal early, got checked in and waited with a few other cars, some trucks and one other motorhome.

At the Inspection station, we noticed that they inspected the cars in front of us, including having them open their suitcases and boxes in their trucks but they just waved us through.

As we will return to Spain next spring, the Fun Facts will have to wait!