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Part 5: El Escorial, Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, Zahara de los Atunes

12.6: Munich -> Girona -> Barcelona
13.6: Barcelona
14.6: Barcelona
15.6: Barcelona -> Madrid
16.6: Madrid
17.6: Madrid
18.6: Madrid -> El Escorial -> Toledo -> Cordoba
19.6: Cordoba -> Sevilla
20.6: Sevilla -> Zahara de los Atunes
21.6: Zahara de los Atunes
22.6: Zahara -> Cadiz -> Zahara
23.6: Zahara -> Tarifa -> Zahara
24.6: Zahara -> Marbella -> Granada
25.6: Granada -> Malaga
26.6: Malaga -> Memmingen -> Munich

18.6: Madrid -> El Escorial -> Toledo -> Cordoba
Hotel Maestre, Cordoba. 84 Euro for an apartment with two bedrooms, small living room, kitchen etc. Not as high class as the one we had in Barcelona, but perfectly adequate. Quiet location, even if it is in Cordoba's old town. Best shower so far (lots of water, temperature easily adjustable). Car garage (8 Euro/day) very narrow, difficult to drive in and out. It does not help that the big van of the hotel is parked right in front of the exit of the garage. Buffet breakfast included in the price, quite good (no tea however, only coffee).
Weather: same weather pattern as yesterday. Very hot.

Today will be a long day and I was hoping to leave early. In reality we only manage to start driving after 11am. In the morning I walk to the Atocha train station where I pick up a rental car. It takes a while to figure out where the office of National is. The car is a Citroen Picasso Combi, with a big enough boots area for our luggage. The car is not bad, cool interior. The only problem is that the engine seems underpowered and it's a pain to change the gears. In addition, the car is a bit wider than other cars, which makes it more difficult to park into the slim parking slots there are in Spain.

After 11am, when we finally manage to get the Magellan GPS navigation system to work (the maps are very old - they were already old in 2008 when we bought it), we start driving towards El Escorial. Driving in Spain turns out to be much easier than expected and the drivers here in Madrid are almost as disciplined as drivers in Germany. The traffic is not chaotic at all.

For some reason we only manage to be at the Escorial at 12:40pm. Then I spend some time trying to drive with the car to a place in the mountains, from which there is a nice view of the Escorial. Despite spending over half an hour I can't find such a place. So we head back to the Escorial and start looking for a parking. For a while we drive around the streets and do not find a single empty slot. Looks like today we are not the only ones planning to visit the Escorial.

After a while we spot a garage, where for a moderate 0.83 Euro/hr you can park your car. We park there, then I bring Shirley and the kids to a Chinese restaurant I spotted and drop them there for lunch, since it's already after 1pm.

In the meantime I explore the Escorial (ticket costs 10 Euro). This is, well, a nice big building, cool architecture, especially when viewed from a distance. But the interiors are not that impressive at all. A bit difficult to understand why such a place should be a UNESCO world heritage site. Many Loire castles are more interesting (Chambord for instance beats it by orders of magnitude) and also Versailles is several orders of magnitude more impressive. El Escorial is basically a very austere, no nonsense palace with simple shapes and very basic architecture.

El Escorial lies next to the small town of San Lorenzo. The town itself is really picturesque, full with beautiful spots. Reminds me a bit the towns in the Loire valley in France.

We leave the Escorial after 3pm, then drive to Toledo where we arrive shortly after 4:30pm. The drive proceeded smoothly with no traffic jams. In Toledo we leave the car in a parking (2 Euro/hour), then start exploring the city.

Toledo is an example of a nice and picturesque walled medieval city. Nice old town on a hill full of shops, restaurants and the usual tourist infrastructure. Well worth a visit, it's even worthwile to spend a night there. It's a very cosy place. Maybe it gets boring if you stay 2-3 days, but an overnight stay is definitely recommendable.

Because it is late when we arrive, we only can stay less than three hours in Toledo, which is a pity.

At 7pm we leave Toledo and start driving towards Cordoba. I take the road to Ciudad Real initially, which is not a motorway, but is a fast road with one lane per side. The road only passes through 2-3 villages until it reached Ciudad Real and allows a good average speed. After Ciudad Real it's motorway for a short section, then a fast road, and about 30km before Cordoba again motorway.

We arrive in Cordoba at 10:45pm, but by the time we have parked in the hotel garage it's 11pm.

19.6: Cordoba -> Sevilla
Hotel Patio de la Cartuja, Sevilla. 75 Euro for an apartment with a bedroom, small living room which we use to sleep in, separate kitchen, bathroom. Again not as high class as the one we had in Barcelona, but perfectly adequate. Quiet location, in walking distance of the city centre of Sevilla. The bed where we sleep in has no blankets (we ask for some and we get sheets). Much better garage than yesterday, with more space (14 Euro/day).
Weather: spotless blue sky in Cordoba, very hot. While driving to Sevilla, the thermometer shows an external temperature of 37C. In Sevilla also very hot, a real oven, but here the sky has some thin clouds layer. No rain.

We get up at 9:30am, and by 10 something am we have had breakfast in the nearby Hostal Maestre. Then we check out, and leave the bags in the car in the garage of the hotel. Shortly before 12pm we start out tour of Cordoba.

Cordoba (or let's say the historic centre of it) is a beautiful city, with narrow alleys bordered by rows of white houses with picturesque roofs and other architectural elements. Occasionally there is some old church or other old building with very nice decorations.

Cordoba is very photogenic. The only real problem is this very strong sun and strong heat, which forces you to continually look for shadow areas to walk in.

Around 12:30pm Shirley spots a Chinese bazaar selling cheap imported Chinese goods. She'll spend the next 20 minutes there, looking for cheap stuff and toys together with the kids.

At 1:45pm we finally reach the Mezquita, a former mosque converted to a church after the reconquista was completed in 1236 AD. This is a very impressive building, with a orange tree garden in the inner court. Going into the church costs 8 Euro, but the bigger problem is that very long queue of people. So we just decide to skip the church interior and continue exploring Cordoba.

It's almost 3pm when we walk into a restaurant. We order two fixed price menus for 10 Euro each (usually these menus are enough to feed also the small kids). The food is not bad, but when we receive the bill, it's not 20 Euro, it's 21.60 Euro because they have added a tax to it.

At 4pm we leave Cordoba by car and start driving towards Sevilla. The drive proceeds smoothly with no traffic jams or other problems. The only thing is that the quality of the motorway is not that high: lots of curves and occasionally uneven ground. Not really a motorway suitable for driving much faster than 100 km/h.

Petrol by the way is cheaper in Spain than in Germany (1.33 Euro in Spain vs more than 1.50 Euro in Germany at the  time of writing this travelogue).

Shortly before 6pm we are in the hotel in Sevilla. We check in and after that buy some food in the grocery opposite the hotel. Then we head back to the room. While Shirley relaxes in the room with the kids, I walk into town.

Sevilla is nice, but not as pretty as Cordoba. The old historic core is a bit smaller and less well preserved than the one of Cordoba or Toledo. Some interesting buildings every now and then (the cathedral for instance, and also the Arenal, where the bull fights take place). Near the cathedral I spot a Chinese restaurant. Will bring Shirley there tomorrow. Lots of tourists in town on this Sunday evening.

A peaceful demonstration of young people protesting against unemployment takes place while I'm there. While I pass by the Arenal, the bullfighting arena, I see how the body of a dead bull is being carried away. It is deposited with a forklift into a refrigerated van. Blood lies on the ground. I'm back in the hotel at 11pm.

20.6: Sevilla -> Zahara de los Atunes
Gran Sol Apartementos, Zahara de los Atunes. 119 Euro for a high class apartment (+ 6 Euro for the parking). New, clean, elegantly furnished. Two bedrooms, a kitchen/living room combo, one bathroom and a big terrace with a view of the beach. About 100m from the beach. Washing machine in the kitchen. Three separately controllable A/C units. The apartment complex has two small pools in the inner court, one for the small kids, and a standard one.
Weather: almost same as yesterday, but some thin clouds in the sky. Temperatures of 38C in Sevilla, in the TV they even report temperatures of 40-42 degrees in Andalusia. It's a dry heat in Sevilla however, so that you can walk around for many hours, as long as you avoid the sun which is very strong indeed.

We check out shortly before 12, then drive into town by car. I am thinking that it is less tiring for Shirley and the kids getting into town by car than to walk. We leave the car in a parking next to the S. Telmo bridge, then Shirley walks in the shaded shops area on the western part of the river while I cross the river and visit Plaza de Espana and the area around it.

The university of Sevilla is in an old 18th or 19th century building, quite cool setup. I wonder if the graduates of this university also have problems finding jobs, as is the case all over Spain.

After some time I reach the Plaza de Espana. To get in you must pass either through the park from the river side or through the Porta de Aragon gate. This Plaza de Espana is a semicircular building with a diameter of 200m over a large square, all beautifully decorated and built in renessaince style even if everything was built in the 1920s for the Iberoamerican expo. Very photogenic place.

I'm there until 1:30pm, then start walking back to the parking, where I meet Shirley who in the meantime went to a McDonald's with the kids. We then drive to a Carrefour hypermarket. Driving in Sevilla is ok, a bit more chaotic than driving in Germany. The speed limit street signs are sometimes placed in a weird manner - different speed limit signs withing 20-50m of each other.
In the Carrefour hypermarket there is a board mentioning 24h opening times, which seems strange (can you really shop in a Carrefour hypermarket at 3am?).

Around 4pm we start driving to Zahara de los Atunes. On the motorway I take the wrong exit and end up arriving in Zahara de los Atunes with a half hour of delay at 6:30pm. The motorway is quite empty by the way.

In Zahara de los Atunes we head to the Bahia de la Plata camping. There we ask for an apartment with A/C, because it's very hot. We get to see one, but it is very small, has only one sleeping room and the kids would have to sleep on a small sofa. We then ask to see a bungalow. This is bigger and has separate bedrooms, but the problem is the heat. Inside it's as hot as in a car which was left for hours under the strong sun.

So we decide to look for a different place in town. And we find one very soon. The Gran Sol apartments are pricey, but very nice and comfortable. We check in around 7pm.

In the evening the kids swim in the hotel pool, while I have a quick look at the beach. Nice light sand, long and wide beach. Zahara is a clean new small city, with not too many tourists so far. Definitely not mass tourism and the beach is not developed.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon