Some of the best village ramparts in France
I have let things slide a bit and I am now a few days behind. It has been a busy few days with travelling, sight seeing and catching up with friends. After we left Torremolinos we drove along the coast road (mainly the N340) along the Costa Del Sol. This is a narrow strip of land wedged between the sea and the mountains and most of this section is built up. The beaches looked nice but the main road is rather too close by. There are hotels and apartments galore. There was a lot of traffic. Not a nice drive and I have no wish to revisit the area.
We parked up for one night on an unoffical aire in the parking lot behind the Congress and Exhbition centre on the edge of Estepona. There were a few other vans there and it was peaceful and mercifully sheltered from the traffic noise. We arrived in the afternoon and after lunch we had time for a walk in to town along the boardwalk beside the sea. Estepona is a very smart town with lots of flowers and gardens and fountains. Very impressive sea front too.
Before we left on Saturday we decided to see if it was possible to buy some new medicines for Eileen across the counter at a pharmacy. These are things she is a bit low on but would need a prescription to buy in the UK. There were three things on her list and we could buy two of them easily. The third was not something that that pharmacy stocked and the pharmacist was not sure she could order it. It seems that there are no controls over what medicines you can buy over the counter and it is up to the pharmacist to decide if your purchase is reasonable. On the reverse side only pharmacies sell medicines of any kind and you can’t even buy paracetamol anywhere else.
We arrived in La Linea de le Conception (aka La Linea) on Saturday afternoon having driven the 50 kms from Estepona in one go. This large town is right next to Gibraltar. You have to go through La Linea to get to Gibraltar by land. Our stopover point is on the large marina almost next to the border crossing. It is a very popular aire with 50 or so vans from all over Europe and even one from Morocco too! The border is about 10 minutes walk which is so handy. Even better we found several Brits here that we knew and had not expected to meet here! It is a nice spot with all the boats on one side and a great view across the airport to the huge, looming Rock of Gibraltar the other way. Not that cheap at €12.50 per night but worth it for the location. After a late lunch and natter to some old friends we went off to explore and see just how close the border was and see what we could find out. The border was quite straight forward and not far to walk. We had a our passports with us and sauntered through to see how different it to would be to be back in “UK”. The Gibraltar side was busy and surprisingly scruffy. There were red buses and a red phone box and very little useful information. We did get a bus leaflet but that did not tell us very much. We walked back through customs and headed back to Bertie feeling that we now knew what to do tomorrow.
On Sunday morning we had a slow start due in part to the very bad night. The peaceful spot turned out not to be very peaceful when a strong wind started blowing causing an annoying roaring sound as it blew through the rigging of all those yachts in the marina. Bertie rocked and rolled a bit too.
We spent quite a while last night researching Gibraltar on the web. Very disapointed about the lack of a cohesive guide to where to go and what to do. We decided we only had a day and all we really wanted to do was get an idea of the place and we were not too worried about ticking off the various attractions. We did want to go and see the Moorish Castle as that has great views and we could get there by bus and we thought we would also go right to the southern tip too (by bus).
We set off late morning and walked to border and then got on the first bus to arrive at the terminus and bought a £6 (NB not €6!) rover ticket to cover all Gib buses for the day which was good value. That dropped us at Trafalgar Cemetery which is about halfway along the rock. Ideally I would have liked to take the cable car up the rock from here but that is out of action for maintenance. We walked back through the old part of town for a way until we were acosted by a shop keeper offering samples of churros. Of course we had to stop and buy a full wheel of churros and some chocolate sauce – lovely and very Spanish! Suitably fortified we headed for the bus stop for the Number 1 bus which goes up to Willis Road just below the Moorish Castle. It is Sunday so all buses are on reduced service today so we had to wait a bit. When it turned up we rather surprised to see how small it was – just a mininbus! We soon realised why as it wound through really tight roads and through narrow arches as it wound up the steep streets. I had assumed that every one in Gib would speak English and it would be like being back home. This is not really the case. Everyone can speak English but we actually heard very little English around us and few locals seem to speak it to each other. This included the bus driver. So when we arrived at an unexpected road block the driver launched in to a lengthy discussion with guy in the road block and we had no idea what was going on. The driver made a sharp turn and continued and we assumed he was finding another route. Turned out there was no other route and he has missing out that whole section! Anyway in the end we got the message and just stayed on board for a complete round trip! This time we alighted at the road block and walked up the blocked road until we found the blockage – a huge crane was working and totally blocking the road to everything including pedestrians who were diverted via steps and a back alley around the problem. It was a bit of a climb up to the Moorish Castle from there although in fact the castle is quite low and the top of the rock is a good 300m higher up! Eileen negotiatiated a 100% discount off the rather steep £13 (each) admission charge by producing her English Heritage membership card which was impressive. The castle itself was quite interesting and rather like the previous ones we had seen in recent days (not worth the advertised price) but the views from the big platform at the top of the tower were stunning.
After that we walked back down to find a suitable point to catch Number 2 bus to Europa Point at the southern tip. This was a normal bus and almost as thrilling a ride with very little clearance on either side! Europa Point was very busy with lots of people in the park and at the cafeteria (rather too British looking to be inviting). The views across the strait to Morrocco and Ceuta (a little bit of Spain attached to Morrocco) where good and we spent half an hour there before catching the next bus back to catch a number 4 bus around the far side of the rock. This time we did not even get off the bus as there was nothing at the terminus. Alighting from the bus near the runway we had quite a long wait for a bus to take us back across the runway to the border. Then we once on the bus we had to wait for a BA plane to take off before the bus could drive across the runway. It reminded me of sitting in the traffic at Lowestoft as the bridge was raised for a ship to pass.
That evening back on Bertie we were really pleased to be able to invite Alice and Joe round. We met this young couple almost two months ago at El Masroig. They are fulltiming (ie their van is their only home) whilst they travel all over Europe. Joe is a webdesigner working part time as he travels and Alice is an artist selling her art works on ebay. They were great company and it was lovely to hear about their travels and their plans and get some tips for the next section of our journey.
Monday (today) is a turning point. From La Linea we drove a bit further west and south to Tarifa which is the most southerly point in mainland Europe. To be honest we did not go into the town but stopped at a bird observatory on a hill above the town that had stunning views across the strait to Africa and out to the Atlantic in the west, This will be our last sight of the Mediterranean this trip as from here on we are travelling roughly north and toward home. We will take a fairly roundabout route in order to have a good look at Portugal along the way but still it feels like turning an important corner.
Tonight we are parked on the docks in Cadiz. It is rather noisy and also windy and chilly. The original plans was to have two nights here and go and explore Cadiz tomorrow. That is under review as I write and we may just push on toward Portugal!