written 23rd february
We (first) crossed into spain by the most western route possible and have crossed back on the most eastern route possible, which has a nice full-circle feel about it, and we got a snowy mountain pass thrown in as well so our Pyrennese experience is complete :)
and what of spain, a country we have literally visited the four corners of in the 6.5 weeks we spent there. As I have already said, in our little english campervan, we found the less visited north to be much more welcoming - once we got over the inital shock of San Sebastian! - but that could also have been in part, residual good camping-car vibes from france :)
I would also say though, that the north has the more dramatic and beautiful landscape - if you like coast and mountains which I do! - even though we missed out on some of the best bits due to lack of heating and snow chains :) The people are friendly and very willing to help even if you have no common language and the petrol is cheaper! The south does have the headline cities - and they are definately worth a visit - and there are some beautiful places to be found, both inland and on the coast, if you are prepared to look and can aviod the real cliche'd horror spots which are unfortunately many and horrible :( BTW I forgot to say in my reporting of expat news, Benidorm is apparently the new most popular city of romance, with a greater increase in weekenders over valentaines day than Paris, New York or Rome. Obviously, you can twist stats to say anything but Benidorm???
I can also understand some of the anti brit feeling, if their beaches do fill up in season with sunburnt drunken louts who only want to wash their egg and chips down with sangria all day or their towns have a higher english population than spanish one - to be completely fair we are the same, just read any edition of the daily mail! - and in all fairness, I can understand the anti-motorhome frustration of our anonymous friend if only because the actions of the few, tarnish the actions of the many and having been in the Algarve, I can see understand that if you don't manage the situation properly, the motorhome ghetto can quickly overwhelm a small town - Castro Marim was a perfect example. I just don't belive that banning them completely, all year round is the answer. Whatever towns might like to believe, although some prefer it, many people who travel in their homes with all their own facilites are not going to pay €25+ for what is, in effect, very expensive parking where they are paying (often more than people in tents) for facilities they are largely not going to use.. But whilst the campsites therefore do not benefit by them being there, the shops, bars and restaurants miss out if they are not allowed. Regulate spaces, clearly sign them, limit the maximum duration of stay, provide basic facilities (water and a drain), police them for anti-social behaviour, ensure they are clean and tidy so people will be inclined to give the locale the respect it deserves and by all means, make them off-season only if it is really a problem but don't ban motorhomes outright. Anyway, absolutely, final comment on that subject and I will get down of my soap-box at last as you are probably bored of it.
So, best bits for Spain:
Best meal: seafood in Tazones. Soup and andaricas definitely highly recommended. Pintxos in San Sebastian and paella in Valencia also absolutely deserve a mention.
Best night out: Seafood and cider with Laura and Cedric, no question. Who would have thought I like octopus!
Best city: San Sebastian, with Valencia a very close second.
Best recommendation: 'Guns of Navarrone' at Cartagena. Spookily awesome. Ronda is also up there (as much for the quality of café company you find there as the spectacular setting!)
Best 'attraction': difficult one. The Alhambra is unique and unforgettable, as is the Mezquita in Cordoba. That said, the sheer scale of the Cathedral at Burgos is awesome, although as far as churches go, Santiago de Compostela and the Monserrat Monastery are also pretty special. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona should also be on this list as an unmissable - albeit not from this trip :)
Best 'non-attraction': I loved my birthday mountain drive and the narnia-like Roncevalles pass through the Pyrennese was simply magical. The roads round Ronda are also pretty good - if it is not dark, raining or foggy :) We would also definitely go back for the El Torcal rock formations in more clement weather.
Things we have had 'an elegant suffiency' of (as my granny used to say): Moorish Castles, cities (walled or otherwise) with 'mazes of typical streets', spanish speed bumps - the idea is to slow cars down, not destroy them!, 'no motorhome's allowed' signs ;)
Although not in anyway part of Spain, Gibraltar also needs a mention here as, in the fabulous weather, the views from the Upper Rock are some of the most spectacular we have seen anywhere ever. I'm not sure what it would be like to be there for longer than one night - it is pretty small - especially if the weather were bad the whole time, and a considerable part of the charm for us was the sudden rush of familiarity after so long and so far away from home. But again, somewhere that is more than worth a visit if you're passing that way!
All in all then, we have had a pretty good time of it in Spain but it is definitely time to move on again. It's funny, I finally got round to sorting out the last few Portugal photos the other day - slack I know! - and found the ones I took across the river and bridge from Castro Marim. The prospect of going back to Spain was so exciting then - how odd to be looking at France in the same way now!
Life is already different here. Almost as soon as we crossed over, we seemed to be surrounded by motorhomes. We have no idea where they were going, the road only went to Spain and we didn't see any on the otherside! Drivers seem to be more patient - no mad overtaking manoeuvers on blind corners up hills! We have passed though towns which are deserted and shuttered up in the middle of the day - in Spain there were always people out chatting on the streets - but at least things re-open at 2pm rather than being shut for hours! And we have RFM once more on the radio, with the 'party quatre-vignt' and cheery plinkity plonk, feel-good songs settling round us like a comfortable blanket as we drive.
Alors, allez-y mes amis, montez-vous encore dans notre chariot de rêves, et nous verrons tous ensemble tout ce que l'avenir va nous envoyer.