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I can’t say that we were over impressed with Jerez.  Sadly, because I had built up a fairly high impression of what it would be like, I was quite disappointed. I expected a gentility that simply wasn’t there (imho).

Jerez de la Frontera is:

  1. Home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, which, according to Wikipedia, is one of the four greatest schools of horsemanship in the world.
  2. Host to an International Grand Prix circuit, used for MotoGP, F1, F2 and World Superbike championships.
  3. Home for most of the world’s sherry producers and the spiritual home to one of the biggest producers, Gonzalez Byass.

 Yet, despite all this, it appeared to me to be run down and dirty.

I accept that Jerez is a very old city, with a rich and varied history, but, despite the prestige and money those international events/producers bring into the city, along with tourists, it wears an air of neglect.  We have visited several old cities in Spain with equally rich and varied histories but they have been cleaner and their buildings have, to a large extent, been or are being maintained. I’m thinking here of Salamanca, Avila, Toledo, Cordoba and Segovia – none have the aforementioned air of neglect and yet, all have similarly long and unique histories.

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unpleasant tapas

The old town’s main square and streets off it, house the restaurants and bars that provide food and drink for tourists and locals alike.  Certainly, the town comes alive at night with tables popping up where none were to be seen at lunchtime.  We chose badly at lunchtime; presented with what were probably the worst tapas we’ve ever eaten: Over vinegared Ensalada Rusa (why vinegar? Why?), Queso that began to sweat in the heat, tab-end sized Croquetas (with soggy fries for garnish) and a fairly tasty piece of ‘Lomo’ in sherry sauce – covered with soggy fries again.

Our evening meal was better.IMG_1823 copy

Sharon had spent a bit of time on Trip Advisor and had come up with a number of options for us to dine at.  I put the first one (top of the list) into MapsDotMe and off we went.  Sharon saw something on the menu that she liked and I knew I would find something, so we stopped there – there was no point dragging ourselves around the town. Bar Juanito looked to be a nice place, and it was – see my review on Trip Advisor.

Before eating lunch, we’d decided to take the tourist bus-trip (City Sightseeing Jerez) which for €17 also includes a tour of the Bodegas Tio Pepe, the home of Gonzalez Byass in Jerez.  The bus trip itself was interesting enough, and explained much of Jerez’s history.  One fact that stuck with me was that many years ago (perhaps hundreds?) the city fathers allowed people to erect buildings alongside the more ancient city walls.  The idea being that this would help to preserve and protect those walls.  However, as we were driven past, I noticed that the buildings that had been erected are also falling into disrepair.  It’s sad that a city of this note and with this heritage cannot be better looked after.

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Our trip around Bodegas Tio Pepe was interesting and by far the more entertaining time of our trip. It is followed by a tasting of Tio Pepe itself and of Croft Original.

Our hotel had been chosen for its position, its price and its description on Booking dotcom.  Although we’d booked and paid to visit the Jeys Catedral Jerez, the hotel seemed to be called Hotel Belles Artes (as well?) – see my review on Trip Advisor.

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I recently spent an exciting, adventurous and exhilarating day, canyoning with Ultimate Rock Adventures.

James, the proprietor, has been a friend for many years and this is his second year of business.  The activities and services he offers are steadily gaining the kudos they deserve and despite my fears (e.g. I’ve never abseiled before – but I trusted James implicitly), I secured this opportunity to join a group going down the river one Saturday in June.12D6108E-4ECC-4700-BE55-CBDC3B7E1589

Based in Gibraltar, the adventure activities can take place pretty much anywhere, but mainly in Spain. The group I joined, completed the beginner’s route at Rio Guadalmina, close to Benahavis.

We met at the Gibraltar-Spain border and set off towards Benahavis at 08:00am. We stopped for breakfast on the way and began to mingle.  The group consisted of Keith and Lorraine, with their two children, aged nine and twelve; James’ nephew Daniel with his friend Denzil, myself and James. So, three generations really, with myself as abuelo. Lol.

We parked close to what would be the end of our journey downriver, on a site that holds the Sunday Market there (no parking on Sundays!).  Here, we were kitted out and given our first instructions.  We were provided with complete wet-suits, harness’ and helmets. We were shown how to attach the carabiner required for abseiling and what the emergency procedures were, should there be an accident.

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We began then by walking up the road a short way and crossing the river via a wooden footbridge.  This took us across country for a short way, before we clambered up and into an ancient aqueduct. This would now lead us directly to the start of our canyoning experience.

James chooses to use this particular route because it is shaded and the water is particularly cooling – which is of great benefit when kitted out in full wet-suits and helmet, in the blazing summer sun of southern Spain.  Along the way he told us something of the history of the aqueduct (now used mainly for watering the golf courses down closer to Marbella) and about some of the flora we were encountering. [Link to video]

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We eventually came to a fairly tall rock on our left and climbed out of the aqueduct and up on to the rock.  This is where it got really scary for me.  By the time I had got to the top, James was already over the top of it, fastening safety ropes etc. to the rock itself.  

This would be our first abseil.  Seeing him there, on a slight ledge just over the pointed top of the rock and looking over the precipitous drop into the river (the drop was much, much deeper than the height we’d climbed from the aqueduct) made me feel ill.  I was terrified.  There really was no way I would be able to accomplish this!

However, I didn’t fancy trying to climb back down to the aqueduct and didn’t want to wimp out at this first obstacle. Only Daniel had done anything like this before, so he went first to demonstrate what James was telling us.  He made it look so easy!  Therefore, I let nearly everyone else go before me, so that I could watch their various techniques and listen to James more closely (and repeatedly).  I came to realise that the tools being used, as well as the science behind them (levers, pulleys etc.) were to be trusted and that my only real fear was climbing up and then slightly down, to where James waited with the safety ropes and equipment. Link to video

I’d already enough spent time looking down and thinking ‘oh heck’ (or words to that effect), so I didn’t do that, I simply lowered myself to the (tiny!) platform of rock and looked inland as James fastened me up and gave me my instructions.  I’d seen that an angle of around 45o would be the correct stance and then James told confirmed that by saying:

– “it’s pretty much the same angle you would be in if sat on a public toilet, where there wasn’t a lock on the door…” –

So, I was ‘off’ with a laugh and felt really quite confident now.  Feeding the rope from one hand to another seemed to come naturally, as the rope took all of my weight and the way it had been fastened by James allowed it to become a brake too.

With a few small mis-steps and splash at the end I was down! Link to video (same as the one above)

If they read this, I must thank everyone in the team again, for the confidence they gave me by being so brave themselves. Thank you all.

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We then did a variety of jumps, high and low, as we meandered down the river.  Even the high jumps did not look bad from water level, but sometimes, once you were up on the ledge, they looked enormous.  I only wimped out on one, mainly because the way up looked difficult (via a pull rope) but also because everyone looked terrified when they got up onto the ledge.

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We had one final abseil close to the end, much smaller than the previous and, again after Daniel, I was first to go.  Abseiling? Sorted!

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I think that it has been a good job that I’ve been able to top up my fitness by completing a number of walks [see other blog] and scoots over the two weeks prior to the canyoning, because I was completely drained that night and I ached all over the day after.  I developed cramp in the hamstrings of both legs towards then end of our trip and overnight they made me wince. However, I wouldn’t have missed the day for anything.

Thank you everyone for your help.

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Picture Credit

Aqueduct: By Tanja Freibott [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

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Sadly, I forgot to take photographs of all the ‘free’ food we were presented with in Spain this year.  Furthermore, I only remembered to photograph some of the food we ‘paid’ for.

However, all of the food was delicious.

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Sharon’s tuna steak

Whilst holidaying on the Costa Tropical, in the Granada region of Andalucía, we encountered much in the way of free food; we’d buy a drink … and we’d get a free tapa! This doesn’t happen everywhere in Spain, but where it does happen, you feel welcomed and that your custom is valued.

We’ve had such tapas before further inland, and there the price of drinks compares well (often cheaper) with those prices charged on the big ‘no-tapas’ Costas.  In Salobreña and thereabouts, the prices for beer and wine were ever so slightly dearer (perhaps €1.70 – €2.00 each as opposed to €1.40 – €1.70), but every drink came with food.

Your first drink would come along and be accompanied by a particular tapa, e.g. Spanish cheese and olives. Then the subsequent order(s) would each be accompanied by different tapa, e.g. Croquetta with salad leaves or a small plate of jamón.  Even when we went somewhere for a meal, some small thing would be presented to us with our first drink.

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There are a couple of places too in Los Boliches (near Fuengirola), where such treats can be had – the difference here being that the drink doesn’t always come with a tapa. But, there are deals to be had.  A caña (small beer 15cl, 20cl, 25cl) can be had without food, but you can also order a tapa (of your own choice, not just presented to you) to accompany the drink for a combined price of (e.g.) €1.40 or €1.60. 

Often, this will be for the smaller beer, but not always.

Other cafes locally (Los Boliches) sell tapa separately for anything from €2.00 (these are usually slightly larger portions and – for me – often big enough to be called lunch) and in the main they are home-cooked and delicious. So far, our favourite is Bar Pepe in the Plaza Carmen.

We’re learning to avoid the places where cheap frozen ‘stuff’ is served.

I guess that all of this illustrates some of the differences between the Spanish and UK drinking cultures. In Spain, food and drink are inextricably bound together, whereas we see them as two different entities. In Spain, a workman will finish his day (or begin his midday break) with a beer and a tapa, whereas here in the UK I see all the local bars full of workmen finishing their day by quaffing pints and eating nothing more than a packet of crisps.

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A simple ‘starter’ of tomato, oil and garlic.

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What is it about a cup of tea that separates the ‘Englishman/English woman’ from the rest of the world?

[Beware – there are some extreme personal tastes and opinions below.]

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Sharon and I have spent some time in the past, driving around the U.S.A. 

We would end each day desperate for a cup of tea, after driving for hours on end. Or, having woken in the morning needing our ‘morning cuppa’, we would find the only thing available to us was coffee. For those of you who have not travelled there, what I mean is ‘there is no kettle!’, only a coffee machine of some kind or another is provided, along with coffee creamer (yuk).

640px-Mug_of_TeaHere in Spain, it is a similar situation, as hotels do not provide cups or mugs, or indeed any means of making water hot at all.  At least in France you can boil water.  It’s of no use either, trying a nearby restaurant or café as there is nowhere else in the world that knows how make a ‘decent cup of tea’.

So, the trick in those places where hot water can be had, is to take your own teabags.  The ones available locally might say ‘English Breakfast’ or some similar untruth, but they will not have the strength or depth of colour I (we) expect.

There is nothing like a good cup of tea. (I hear both sisters in law suggesting the opposite however.)

Having said all of that, when I am out drinking coffee, I’d rather be in any other place than the U.K. because the coffee we serve at home is nasty.  Nuff said.

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They say that if you keep your brain active and alert, it will slow down or prevent the onset of dementia.  

As a retiree, I find the eventual possibility and onset of dementia worrying.  I therefore keep as active as I can, I read copiously, I undertake puzzles and games on my iPad and I complete jig-saw puzzles.

All of this (hopefully) helps to prevent my memory from deteriorating too quickly.

It is also suggested that learning a new language can help to slow down the process of age related memory loss – or brain ageing.

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Well, bully for me – because I am desperately trying to learn Spanish.

However, I’ve never been good with language classes.

At secondary school, French was a subject only accessible to the top class (class ‘A’).  It took me a few years to reach that level and once I started to move up through ‘B’ and finally to the ‘A’ class, it was not accessible to me because I’d missed those early years. Later, at catering college, French Language was offered on Friday afternoons but it was not interesting and made no sense to my sixteen-year-old self.  Yet, the ‘kitchen’ French I learned in normal catering classes WAS interesting and I devoured that. I have always been able to decipher menus during the (roughly) thirty consecutive years I have visited France.

As a young adult, I attended evening classes, to learn German. I enjoyed those as they were aimed at grown-ups and Jill, the teacher, was fabulous.  I passed my Institute of Linguists ‘preliminary’ exam – no worries. The second year didn’t take off however and my interest lapsed.

I picked up French again when I began teaching, but by now it just seemed very hard and my progress was very slow.  I tried lunchtime courses, evening courses and – just a few years ago I attended an inclusive course in Sancerre.  I can get by in French. I can get by in German. But I cannot converse in either language.  Anything other than travel requisites (food, drink, fuel, rooms, tables, directions) and I begin to flounder.

I do not want that to happen with my Spanish. 

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I want to communicate socially and conversationally. 

To be fair, I am probably already at the stage it took me thirty years to reach in French, but it seems to be SO DIFFICULT.

And yet, I’m still avoiding formal classes.

Formal classes haven’t worked for me so far, so I’m undertaking some self-directed learning for now.  I’m using Duolingo as my base and have just recently completed ninety consecutive days of learning.  Each ‘day’ has a minimum of 10 minutes – I set that up at the beginning. I often do far more than that, but on busy days the minimum is 10 minutes.  I’ve found that online learning works ok for me, but that it does still lead to some confusion.  I therefore back up my learning on other sites and dictionaries. Google Translate is a Godsend.

750px-Flag_map_of_Spain.svgBecause Duolingo is available on the computer, as well as on my iPhone and iPad, it is constantly available.  If I stop for a coffee, instead of simply reading Facebook posts, I can complete a five-minute lesson on Duolingo, or its sister App Tinycards.  As time passes I find myself going over lessons more and more because the new words are taking much longer for me to process.

And that’s the thing:  How much more vocabulary do I need (do we need, as Sharon is also trying to learn Spanish) before I start to think in Spanish?  Some words and phrases come immediately to mind, without thinking what I need to say and, to be more fluent/competent, this needs to happen more often.

I have recently been given some children’s crime/adventure books, in Spanish, which I am beginning to wade through just now.  I know about 20% of the words on the page and understand about 40% of what is going on – but I have to stop and translate whole sentences to get the full gist.  I’m enjoying doing that – so perhaps all is not as bad as I think.

After all I studied for and achieved a Masters Degree – how hard can this be?

Resources

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Last week Sharon and I followed in the footsteps of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII.

The king (el Rey) perambulated the 5k long walkway/boardwalk, which hangs on the sides of a river gorge, in 1921, quite a while after it had first been constructed to allow access to hydroelectric power plants situated along the way. Although the construction was completed by 1905, the king:

“…crossed the walkway in 1921 for the inauguration of the dam Conde del Guadalhorce, (which is at the north end of the walkway) and it became known by its present name (The King’s Little Pathway)” (1)

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We’d heard of it before, but never really took any notice until last year, when my brothers and their wives accompanied Sharon and I to Ronda, by train (2). It looked remarkable, so Sharon and I set about trying to fix a date to complete the walk ourselves. We’d looked at doing it last January – but were too late to get ourselves a booking and at Easter, we were just too busy – until again we were too late.

IMG_0558The walk costs around €10 each and YOU HAVE TO BOOK a starting slot.  Timetables are available on the website (3). These are currently being updated, but I believe they were in half hour slots from 10:00am. We’re told that you can just turn up at the kiosk, but for all sorts of reasons, I wouldn’t risk it.

The pathway is one-way, going north to south and parking can be found at both ends – although beware, there’s not a lot of parking.  At the north end, there is a small group of lakes – the Guadalhorce-Guadalteba Reservoirs, around which cafes, hotels and other recreational activities have been established. This is where you begin your walk.

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“The actual entrance to Caminito del Rey is either 1 mile or 1¾ mile from the road, depending on which route you take.  There is a car park of sorts but it does not have the capacity that this attraction requires.  Cars are abandoned all the way down the road leading to the lakes.  There is a walkway that heads out towards the Caminito ‘entrance’, which starts around the side of El Kiosko restaurant/bar, under a short tunnel (with cars parked along it) and then through the woods and along a winding forest track that covers some stunning views. Another entrance begins closer to the main car park – via a pedestrian tunnel.” (4)

There is a bus service that shuttles walkers to and from either end of the walkway. For example: If you arrive by train at El Chorro railway station, close to the southern entrance, you can catch the bus right outside the platform. 15-20 minutes later it drops you outside El Kiosko (northern entrance), so you can begin your walk back to the station. However, do beware – there are not many trains per day. (5)

The bus also stops at the entrance to the small car park by the Mirador Restaurant.  So, if you’ve parked at the north and walked all the way to the south entrance – the bus will bring you back to your car. The bus cost us €1.55 each.

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The walkway itself is probably less than 5k in length but overall, expect to walk 8-9k, with the extra walks to and from each entrance.

None of it is strenuous, other than you needing a head for heights.

Unlike days gone by, when unfortunate people died whilst attempting the route as it began to decay, the walkway is perfectly safe and staff patrol it all the time in case of incident. Half way along, there is a fairly lengthy stretch of normal walking – so it’s not all hanging boardwalks and scary stuff. This area would be a good place to stop and maybe have a small snack. Our photographs don’t really do it justice at all. The colours are more magnificent (and we went on a day that was overcast), the views are much ‘closer’, much higher and much deeper. It really was worth the hour or so drive to get there from Fuengirola and the parking problems (actually, we did ok for parking because we arrived about 09:45am in plenty of time for our 10:30am booking).

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They don’t allow umbrellas and a guide seemed to be asking someone why he’d brought sticks (I don’t think they are allowed either – they’re certainly not needed).  Everyone is issued with a hardhat and sanitary head cover.  You need good strong footwear, some water (the amount depends on the weather I suppose) and possibly a fleece or lightweight rain coat if walking late/early in the year.

There are toilets at the IMG_0560northern entrance, so if the coffee you had at El Kioski has worked its way through by the time you reach the entrance barrier, don’t worry. If you see groups of people milling about – ignore them: look for an official, get your ticket scanned and follow instructions. What we didn’t know was that the people milling about were parts of organised groups waiting for their time slot – get past them, they are like cats being herded.

It’s not a long walk, you don’t need lots of food or drink. Judge your water needs on the weather and take a small snack (we took a couple of tiny pastries each) to keep you going.

We were advised not to bother with photographs and to soak it all up as we walked instead – and to be honest, I wish I’d heeded that advice. When I go again, I will not take my camera – I will feel the moment.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caminito_del_Rey

2 https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/hermanos-y-cunadas/

3 http://www.caminitodelrey.info/en/

4 https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/a-day-out-ardales/

5 https://www.rome2rio.com/s/M%C3%A1laga/El-Chorro-Andalusia-Spain

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Car buying

Well, yesterday saw the completion of our car buying journey in Spain. It’s not been difficult, but it has been long-winded and tiring.

We started looking around about this time last year, as we’d got fed up with the tricks that car hire companies were up to with their insurance costs. Over the years it has become more and more stressful to hire a car in Spain as any little scratch ‘could’ lead to you losing your deposit – one time we had to leave €1300! Our research had told us that second hand cars in Spain were not cheap and so we did some cursory looking around and came away to consider finances.

IMG_8967Sharon rooted around the internet and came up with a number of sites to visit when we got here and we checked out some of the main dealer showrooms. We kept coming back to MalagaCar.com (car sales) as all the write-ups were good and the prices comparatively reasonable. We’d met Miguel when we visited last year and he remembered us as we talked with him this time. What I liked about MalagaCar.com was that there was no pressure, none.

No pressure to buy, no pressure to look at this/or that and only answers given, to question asked. The cars and the service sold itself.

Our price-restricted choice came down to a Corsa or a Punto. Our research didn’t look good for the Punto and neither did our test drive. So that left us with a 2014 Corsa or a 2013 Corsa (@ €1,000 less). We test drove both and opted for the older version purely on price. Here, at MalagaCar.com the price includes registering the car with authorities, 2 years ITV (MOT), 1 year guarantee, VAT, and a free 12-month service. It had its ITV yesterday.

It’s been tiring because we’ve had to visit the showroom quite a few times for this and that (probably because our hire car had to be back on a particular day – so they couldn’t keep the car until fully ready). I went back yesterday for it to go for the ITV, but suspect that this would normally be done before collection.

We bought fully comprehensive insurance with Liberty Seguros yesterday. The company have an office in Los Boliches and we had it recommended to us, as the service was good and English was spoken. Sammy explained everything to us in detail and we ended up buying fully comprehensive cover, with €150 excess – with breakdown cover included.

Sorted.

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