On the left you see us at a cafe in the Albaicin Area in Granada, Spain. Please note, we are drinking water! Actually, in our 55 day trip, there were two whole days when we did not drink any wine. But in our defense, the wine was good and cheap. Water was good but expensive.
There will, eventually, be photos throughout the travelogue but, at this time, they are listed at the end. You can view them there.
If you have a fast connection, you can view the photos we took of some of the people we met during our 8 week journey through Europe. Click here to view the photo thumbnails. With some we shared a drink, some a taxi, some a meal and some a table. Some we just met and talked to. To all of you, thanks for including us in your holiday. The photos will appear on the left. If you don't have time then continue reading and click on any links of photos that seem interesting, the individual photo file sizes are small and the photos will appear on the left as you read on.
This was the longest trip we have taken to Europe and it was to last 8 weeks. Many of our friends were sure we would stop talking by the third week but those of you who know me, know how easy I am to get along with. Nevertheless, on our last night in a bar in Bruges, Belgium, I asked Christine how the trip had gone. She said that she needed another laundry and a dry cleaner and she could go another 8 weeks. Basically, we both had a great time and the time went very fast. We will do it again.
We used British Airways frequent flyer miles to travel Chicago-London-Malaga, Spain, and returned Brussels, Belgium-London-Chicago. We booked five other flights either through Expedia or directly through Olympic Airlines (for the inter island flights in Greece). We road trains, buses, took an overnight ferry from Rethymon, Crete, to Athens, rented three cars and leased a car for five weeks through Renault (fantastic deal). We walked a lot, mostly uphill as most European towns are at the top of the hill. We walked the 18 kilometer Samaria Gorge in Crete and this was downhill to the Libyan Sea. We each carried one daypack as a carry on bag and one small 22 inch bag on wheels that we checked. I had two small nylon bags hidden in my bag and when Christine found out I had them she proceeded to fill them so by the time we turned in the car in Brussels and flew home, we had four bags to check.
On the flight over we had to transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick on Speedlink and that cost 14 pounds each. British Airways used to pay for the transfer if you had both flights on one ticket but they don't anymore. Gatwick was a zoo and they have one big line that wraps around the terminal. we went through something called "Fast Bag Drop" but it wasn't as there were seveal people in line who should not have been there. We had time to kill so we had some coffee and talked to a nice woman from Malta, now Christine wants to go to Malta.
All of the photos on this trip were taken with an Olympus C-700 Digital Camera. In 55 days we took over 1500 photos and uploaded about 400 to Wal-Mart to have prints made. The digital photos were 1600x1200 and saved in the Olympus HQ Mode resulting in a file size of about 400-500 kilobytes. I used Photoshop to reduce the size and resolution of the photos on these web pages to about 10% of the original size. We carried an Olympus 35mm camera with us but did not use it and will probably not carry it on future trips. I had about 456 megabytes of SmartMedia with me and have now increased it to 712 megabytes for our next trip. I had an international voltage charger for the 2 sets of 4 NiMH AA batteries and never had a problem even after days of shooting with the same set. The C-700 seems to be easy on the batteries. I carried the C-700 in a small "fanny pack". Because the size was small we carried it everywhere.
I had originally booked a car for Spain through www.autoeurope.com but a few days before our trip I found www.carjet.com and they quoted me a much better price which included zero deductible collision damage wavier (CDW) insurance. Carjet's price for a Renault Clio, 4 door with A/C was 200€ for 10 days. Autoeurope was unable to match this price.
We arrived in Malaga, Spain, around 1800 hours and we were tired as we had been traveling for 18 hours. We easily found the Record Auto Rental Desk and were told that the car that Carjet had booked for us was not available but they would give us a Renault Scenic SUV. The only problem was that the Scenic was very low on fuel we would have to fill it up as soon as possible. The car looked great so we took it. At less than $20US per day with zero deductible CDW, it was a real deal. Right outside the airport we stopped for gas and I began to fill the tank with unleaded gas, We were tired but luckily Christine asked me if I was filling the car with the right fuel. I looked and it said "diesel" on the inside of the fuel door. I had only put in 5 liters so I went inside to see if the man running the place could give me some advice. Maybe if I spoke a little Spanish he could have helped me. I dragged him outside and pointed to the unleaded fuel and he shook his head no and pointed to the diesel pump. I finally got it across to him what I had done and he shrugged his shoulders indicating (at least to me) that it wouldn't matter. I proceeded to put 38 liters of diesel fuel into the car. Diesel fuel is oily so use the plastic gloves that the stations provide. We were concerned for a few days but nothing came of our error and later I learned some people in Germany add some gas to their diesel in the winter to keep the diesel from turning to gel.
We drove through Malaga up to the Parador Gibralfaro below the castle and overlooking the sea, city, and the bullring. We had booked through the Internet at three of the paradors in Spain: Malaga, Granada and Ronda. The rooms were more expensive than we usually pay and much more expensive than other places we saw in Spain but they were fantastic. Paradors are run by the Spanish Government and are located in historic buildings, monasteries, castles, etc. We had really great rooms in all three paradors. They have a good cancellation policy and you can view all the sites at www.parador.es. You can book at this site and it is the official parador site. You must book early for some of the sites where there is a big demand. We booked 6 months ahead for the Parador in Granada and it is in a small old convent right on the grounds of the Alahambra Palace. It cost $207US per night without breakfast and it was worth every penny. If you book a room make sure you bring the confirmation form with you. We had originally booked through a website that I thought was the official parador site but it was not. They confirmed our reservation but when I requested a copy of the confirmation fax they acted like I was questioning their ancestry. I finally got them to send the confirmation fax and it clearly stated that the reservation was not confirmed unless I sent them a new credit card to guarantee the reservation as the credit card I used had an expiration date prior to my arrival. Had I not persisted in requesting the confirmation fax we would not have had a room when we arrived. Because of the way they acted, I cancelled our reservation through them and made my own through the official site www.parador.es. We saw someone at the front desk in Granada who was trying to say they had a reservation but they did not have a confirmation and they were out of luck. I recommend you use the official parador web site and bring the confirmation Fax with you.
After checking into a really large and nice room at the Parador Gibralfaro overlooking Malaga we went down and had a drink on the veranda overlooking the city and the sea. It was a great view. I ordered fried fish and Christine thought she ordered smoked tuna. I got fried fish and she got pate sandwiches. We vowed to be more careful when ordering. We got much better at ordering and most all our meals in Spain we very good. We were very tired but we tried to stay up as late as possible and went to bed after 10PM. This helps us adjust to the local time. After a good night's sleep we went down to the restaurant and had some coffee.
On the road, we drove east to the seaside town of Castell de Ferro for lunch and then north to Granada. We had booked a room at the Granada Parador which is in the Alahambra Gardens. This Parador is built in an old convent, the Convent of St Francis and the Spanish Catholic kings were buried for some time in the old church of the Franciscan convent today the convent is the Parador de Granada. In the year 1521, the kings remains were moved to the Royal Chapel where they lie now. And, if you lodge here, you can spend the night in the gardens of the Alhambra. We got a really nice room with a balcony overlooking the Generalife Gardens. We had booked an entry time to visit the Alahmbra through the Internet but the hotel talked us into exchanging that for a guided walking tour. The walking tour was very good but it was still a tour. It was in two languages, English and German and the Germans got the short end of everything that was explained. I think we could have done well with just the earphone and it would have been cheaper. Speaking of earphones, we rented them at the Chapel Royal and unless you can relate to all the Spanish names that are mentioned every 3 seconds, don't rent them.
We loved Spain but here are some thoughts I wrote down. The Parador in Granada is worth the splurge, about 205 Euro per night. One of the best places we've stayed. There is not a lot of grass in Granada, mostly cement and stones and a lot of dog poop! No one cleans up after there dog. Watch where you walk, especially at night. Stay away from the touristy spts like the Piazza Neuvo, walk up to the places around the Albacin area. Much cheaper and friendlier. Two glasses of wine in Piazza Neuvo cost 7.50 Euro and 1 Euro each in the Albacin Plaza Larga. Tapas are fun. One night we met a friend for dinner and it cost 12 Euro each and it was great. We had fried fish, vegetables and wine. The next night we went back to the same restaurant and stopped at the bar, ordered 2 glasses of wine and they brought a big plate of hot fried fish. I ordered a beer and we got another plate of fried fish. The fish was really good and we were almost full. It cost 3.60 Euro. So, we started stopping at bars and they all had good snacks. Some nights we just ordered some dishes at the bar and had a great time. We did run into the age old problem of finding a nice place only to find it closed the next night. Check, when you find a place you like, what day of the week it is closed and ake a note of it.
Driving....they have this left turn rule in Spain, you turn right to turn left. Sometimes, there is a small cutoff on the right and you turn into it, then make a left and wait until traffic allows you to cross both lanes. Remember to look both ways.
We never used our car in Granada and it sat in front of the Parador until we left to drive to Arcos de la Frontera. Arcos was up on top of this hill and you could only get to it by driving up this narrow street which was one way, controlled by several traffic lights which limited traffic up to the main piazza. It was a long drive up and you were constantly meeting cars that had stopped soemwhere and then continued only to cause a tie up. We got up to the Piazza by the Parador and that was the only time in 3 days we were able to find a parking place in the Main Piazza. There was a self-appointed parking attendant telling you where to park in the crowded piazza and he made sure that people got a parking space based on the order of your arrival. I gave him a Euro and he seemed satisfied. The Parador was full so we walked to the El Convento Hotel and got a room with A/C and a view for 77 Euro. This was a nice hotel and a bottle of white wine only cost 6 Euro. You could have a drink or breakfast on this terrace overlooking the valley 800 feet below. We enjoyed this hotel and the staff was very nice. The sold us a ticket for our car which allowed us to park in the main piazza all night.
We took a walking tour of Arcos and learned a lot, the Roman Columns at all the corners, embedded in the corners of the houses are real. We went bar hopping and had bar snacks until dinnertime when we stopped for a salad.
One day we drove to Gibraltar and took a cable car to the top, in cost 9 Euro. On the top we got something to drink and 2 Mars bars. One of the Apes (and there were a lot) tried to steal it from Christine's tray but CHris ws too fast. A girl at another table broke off a piece of a Kit-Kat bar and gave it to the ape. When she went to do it again the ape ignored the piece and grabbed the whole bar. They are friendly but aggresive. We drove back to Arcos along the coast, you could see the Atlas Mountains in Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. While waiting in line to enter Gibraltar I noticed that there were a lot of free parking on the road going the other way and our line was really going slow. I made a u-turn and parked and we walked the 2 blocks to the border, walked across and took a bus into the city. On the way home we were glad we had parked outside as the line to exit was long and slow. We just walked across the border, got in our car and drove away.
The roads going north towards Arcos from the coast were poorly marked and especially on entering a city, the signs just disappeared. We would keep driving until we saw a sign. There is no room on the side of many roads to pull off and some actually have a ditch, be careful.
One night in Arcos we met Mike, someone we met in Granada, for dinner at the Parador. We had a great time and talked a lot about what we had all learned about Spanish History. Togethre, we were able to remember a lot. Well, on the way out of the restaurant, a man stood up and asked us, "Are you academics?". We said no and he was disappointed. Seems he and his wife were from Harvard, retired chemistry professor and he had heard us and thought we were smart, or something. Anyway, when he found out we were not "academics" he sat down. They were also staying at the convent but we didn't see them again.
The drive through Ronda was through the "White Villages" and Christine both a lot in Umbrique. So much that we had to go into a post office and buy a box, pack it and then ask for some packing tape to seal the box. They were very nice and it seemed like everyone in the post office tried to help. The box arrived safely at home in a few days.
Ronda was a spectacular town but it took us awhile to find out where the locals eat. we had booked at the Parador and I asked for a room with a balcony, they gave us the best room in the house on the top floor, a mini-suite with two doors leading to a balcony on the corner overlooking the New Bridge. The balcony was huge. We had a TV and fridge and the bathroom was larger than the next room we had in Rhodes, Greece. The underground parking lot was always full and the first time I parked there a girl told me to park in a special spot, she had to lower an post in the center of the road and I drove into a nice spot. Since I saw how she lower the post, I parked there all the time and no one said anything. This Parador, like the two others was very nice and expensive. One day we were out walking south of the bridge and we came across this small hotel. We wlaked in and looked around and a man asked if he could help. We said we admired the hotel and would like a brochure. He invited us to have a drink in the courtyard and he brought us 2 glasses of wine, some peanuts and olives and the brochure. When we were leaving I asked him how much and he said "nothing". He owned the hotel and hoped we would come back to stay. Just one example of the nice things that happened to us on our trip.
Here are some photos we took in Malaga, Granada, Arcos de la Frontera and Gibraltar:
The following photos are Panoramic Photos and will open in a new window. Close the new window when you are finished viewing the photo.
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