| Part 5: El Escorial, Toledo, Cordoba,
Sevilla, Zahara de los Atunes
-> El Escorial
-> Toledo -> Cordoba
Hotel Maestre, Cordoba. 84 Euro for an
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
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
bought it), we start driving towards El Escorial. Driving in Spain
turns out to be much easier than expected and the drivers here in
almost as disciplined as drivers in Germany. The traffic is not chaotic
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
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
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.
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 37°C. 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
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 (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.
very photogenic. The only real problem is this very strong sun and
strong heat, which forces you to continually look for shadow areas to
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
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
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
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.
-> Zahara de los
Gran Sol Apartementos, Zahara de los
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 38°C 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
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