We decided that it would be unforgivable to pass Seville for a second time on this trip without paying it a visit, so we spent a couple of nights at Autocaravanas Hidalgo, a motorhome dealership east of the city that has a paid motorhome stop in the grounds. We chose it because it has electric hookup and we’re still nursing our ailing batteries back to health. It also has a huge accessory shop and I can’t resist browsing through those endless plastic objects. Speaking of plastic objects, we have a worn out catch on the underbed locker door that should hold it up against the side of the van when you have your head underneath stirring the stuff that’s in there. At the moment we risk life and limb trying to get anything out unless the other half holds the door up. So parking up there seemed completely sensible until we discovered two disappointing things, one was that the old catch is attached with rivets and I haven’t a clue how to take them off and the second was that the bus we had read about from the nearest village into the city doesn’t appear to run any more. The catches could wait but the trip into Seville could not. We opted to push the boat out and get a taxi into the city, after walking the mutts until they were dog tired and leaving them to sleep in the van. The receptionist called us a taxi and then asked the very fluent English and Spanish speaking Dutchman from the accessory shop to come out to the taxi and explain to the driver exactly where to drop us off. They were worried we would literally be taken for a ride by the driver at a huge cost. As it turned out the taxi driver could speak French so we managed a bit of chit chat as we drove into the city. He pointed out some of the interesting places we might like to visit and then gave us a stern warning to keep our money in a safe place and be cautious. His parting remark to us was, “Don’t worry, it isn’t dangerous like America, just be careful.”
We were stunned by the beauty of Seville and a little disappointed that we could only spend a relatively short time there. The day was wonderfully sunny, warm enough to eat our lunch in a pavement café and enjoy our stroll through the streets. The queues for some of the major attractions were enormous so we contented ourselves with a long walk, lots of photos and the promise to return one day perhaps on a city break.
Getting a taxi back to the van was a little more complicated, even though I had carefully written the address down before we left. Three taxi drivers stood and stared at it as though it was written in hieroglyphics until one of them hit on the idea to ask if we spoke French. “Un peu” – our usual reply but our peu was enough to tell them that it was at junction 15 of the motorway in the direction of Malaga and a rather dubious driver put us in his cab and set off. Along the way he used his phone satnav by speaking into it – Autocaravanas Hidalgo – and discovered that it was indeed where we had told him and we were back at the van before you could say next time we’ll stay nearer the city. It was a bit pricey to use taxis but worth every euro. I’m not a big fan of cities and soon get weary of the noise and the crowds but Seville had us captivated.
On our return from Seville we found that we had British neighbours – a lovely couple, Irene and Ray from Shropshire. We chatted, laughed, shared travel stories and exchanged some DVDs before setting off to our next destination. Up until this moment we had kept our options open for the next leg of the journey. We could head over to the coast and go north from there or cut north east via Antequera, to Ubeda and on to Albacete. The former option would be warmer but we’ve done it before. The latter is new to us so more interesting but potentially very much colder. The warmth in Seville was so good we couldn’t quite believe that just a couple of hundred miles north east could make much of a difference so we decided to go for it and try the new route.
Antequera is a place we circled at least twice when we were in the area on our way to the south coast back in December. We had made the fatal error of reading someone’s jaded view of the place and the motorhome parking so we gave it a miss. Fortunately for us, Irene and Ray had just left there and they enjoyed it, only warning us to be careful to not get lost in the winding streets as they had done. We are so glad we took their advice! Antequera turned out to be a real gem and the motorhome parking was safe, free including water and waste services, and close enough to the old town if you’re prepared to walk up some steep hills. Approaching the motorhome parking we couldn’t work out how to get onto the service point and had to do a manoeuvre that involved reversing into the traffic not once but twice. I’ll spare you the details but it did entertain the other motorhomers who were sitting sipping wine in their neatly parked outfits watching us shuffling about like fools. Once onto the service point we discovered something truly alarming. Our Toad alarm system with engine immobiliser refused to acknowledge us when we pressed the button to release its grip on the engine. Only silence met our frantic button pushing and we stood in splendid but rather inconvenient isolation on the service point, making it impossible for anyone else to use it. Eventually, after numerous attempts the alarm started to wail, just in case anyone had failed to notice our ineptitude thus far. A swift jab of the off button and it stopped, waited until we relaxed and started again, over and over it howled, only stopping to take a breath like a toddler having a tantrum. Eventually it stopped and by some miracle allowed us to start the engine. Trying to look nonchalant we did our second reverse into the traffic and into the parking area where we took the first available space. It was only after we’d turned the seats round and put the table up that we realised this space was available because it was uneven. By this time we were too embarrassed to shuffle about any more so we just put up with sleeping with our heads lower than our feet and twisted to one side.
Dogs are very good at routine and ours know that the first thing we do when we park up is go for a walk. There was no way they were going to wait until we’d had a cup of tea, taken some deep breaths and reassured ourselves that the signs for the service point weren’t clear and it wasn’t our fault that the alarm had gone nuts and honestly we’re not complete numpties. No, the dogs were by the door, tails wagging and ready for the off. They have a much healthier view of life than us – embarrassment is not in a feature of the dog psyche. How I envy them.
Irene and Ray had given us a tourist map so we set off using the map and the satnav on my phone to take us to the top of the old town and the wonderful views up there. We had left the sunshine in Seville so had to be content with dull light and a chill in the air. This was no problem to us because by the time we were at the top of the hill we were as hot as hot things. There was a small pavement café there so we ordered coffees and two small portions of tapas to refresh our weary bones and make up for the cup of tea that we would have had if we weren’t controlled by two small dogs. Sitting there we saw a small tourist vehicle, reminiscent of a long golf cart and decided that we would investigate it the next morning.
We had a rude awakening the next morning when a team of road repairers began to dig up the entrance to the service point. I fantasised that they were going to make the way into it more user friendly but there was no clue available to us as to what they were doing, other than attempting to waken the dead. Once again it was my turn on route march duty and I set out on this one with the express intention of making them tired enough to sleep the morning away. Unfortunately it had the same effect on me but being British I armed myself with a stiff upper lip and set out with Shirley and the map to find tourist information. If you’ve been a follower of this blog from the start you may remember an earlier competition for best and worst tourist information offices. In this town we found them both. The first i sign was beside an underground car park and, oddly, you had to walk down into the underground to find it. When we got there the man behind the counter was on the phone and he irritably told us to wait. When he finally finished his call he asked us in a challenging tone to see our parking ticket. “We don’t have one”, we said puzzled, “We walked here.” He snorted unkindly and informed us that this tourist office was only for people parked in the car park. He then got a map out and marked firmly on it where the tourist office we should use was to be found. He was so cross he almost poked a hole in the map. We left feeling bewildered and set off in the direction of the other one, that predictably was up the hill and close to the place we had walked the evening before. Here we found tourist office number two where we were treated with kindness, respect and genuine helpfulness. The lady phoned the driver of the tourist golf cart, although she called it a bus, and got him to detour via her office to pick us up.
We were soon being catapulted around the steep and narrow streets with piped Spanish music and a recorded commentary, done by some delightful coincidence, by a Scotswoman. The town is worthy of a much longer visit than we could give it – and so another place is added to our ‘next time we are down this way’ list.
Back at the van the dogs woke up from their morning slumber and pretended they had missed us. We soon had the seats turned round, the dogs in their harnesses and the sat nav set, only to discover that the alarm hadn’t finished with us. The damned thing would not turn off the immobiliser again. Eventually we dug around in the massive folder of papers that the previous owner had left for us and found a small card with a code on it and instructions how to reset. The system involved turning the ignition key backwards and forwards repeatedly, counting flashes on the dash board and swearing until thankfully, after two attempts, we disarmed it and could move off.
It was a lot further to Ubeda than we’d anticipated. We were quite content though, driving past snow covered mountains in the Sierra Nevada and miles and miles of olive trees as far as the eye could see. Apparently there are many millions of olive trees in the world and a lot of them are in Andalucia. It takes between five and fifteen years for them to bear fruit and then they are usually harvested by hand. So if you were idly wondering why your extra virgin olive oil is so expensive now you know. I was looking it up on Google while Shirley was driving, particularly interested in the health benefits. I read that drunk raw it is very good for constipation but then again so is driving on Portuguese roads, trying to drive down impossibly narrow cobbled streets, being knocked up by the police and being woken by a JCB a few feet from your bedroom window.
Our stop for the night in Ubeda was a beautifully prepared motorhome park between an olive oil factory and the police training college. We rolled up in early evening to find our way blocked by a man in a van delivering a large item of furniture. We managed to get by and parked up thankfully on a beautifully levelled pitch near to the free services. Once again we were thankful for the generosity of these towns that allow us to stay for no charge at all. It definitely encourages us to spend a little money in the town and discover places we wouldn’t otherwise have visited. Ubeda has fantastic views over the rolling hills and mountains, you can buy beautiful olive oil from the factory shop and it is very very cold in February. For the first time on this trip we went out for our walk with the dogs wearing more clothes than the locals. Obviously they are very hardy here. It was here that we finally accepted that our leisure batteries are fecked and we will have to find a way to get home without paying Spanish prices for new ones. We didn’t allow this to spoil our enjoyment of the town, especially as we were pretty sure that the sun would soon be out and we could rely on solar power for the rest of the day. The current (see what I did there?) solution is to buy a starter battery, which is much cheaper, and use it just to get home where we can buy leisure batteries for a lot less. We’ll ponder this as we roll along towards Albacete. This motorhoming lark really challenges our patience!