Tag Archives: driving

An evening drive

An evening drive

When we were house hunting, we had been ga-ga over a very remote house, but our low-ball offer was refused, and that is what led us to buy our current casa. Every day, as we are cooking in our kitchen, or enjoying the terraces, or waking up and looking out over the mountains in the distance, we say: “Aren’t you so glad we bought this one?” But today we decided to take a drive out to the other house, to look at it with different eyes. The eyes of owners of a wonderful spanish house, instead of the eyes of two crazy Americans who thought that buying a fixer-upper in the middle of no where would be a good idea.

We drove all the way out there and kept saying, “Oh my gosh, this is far from town!” The hamlet seemed sad and had just a few inhabited houses. The rest are vacant. Some were closed up and look like the owners haven’t been around in a while. There weren’t any people around. It was pretty quiet — not even barking dogs.

The countryside is beautiful out there, but seeing how kind of sad and dreary it was just confirmed that buying our reformed 300 year old casa on the edge of town was the best decision for us. After taking it all in, there wasn’t much to do, and Curt wasn’t feeling like walking among the houses, so we started to make our way out of the hamlet. We did pass by some grapes along the narrow road beside a house that had chained up gates, so I rolled down the window and let a few “fall in my lap.”

Grapes from Los Utreras

Grapes from Los Utreras

After this excursion, we went back to Albox and stopped at the Lidl. We wanted to go back to the beach before leaving Spain and were looking for an umbrella to shield us from the sun. It turns out that we hit the jackpot at this Lidl because not only did we find our beach umbrella, but also a shower rack that we had been looking for. Lidl is a grocery store, but in the center of the store they sell all sorts or random things like shoes, toasters, toys, etc. We picked up a few other food items while we were there. One thing I was so curious about was this melon. We had been seeing it in all the stores, but I had no idea what it would be like inside. It’s called Piel de Sapo, which means, literally, skin of toad. I guess the skin does really look like a toad’s skin!

Piel de Sapo melon

Piel de Sapo melon.
Similar to our Honeydew melon.

 

Bike shopping

Bike shopping

You do remember The Dream of the Vuelta, right? That is what inspired all this to begin with! You shouldn’t just dream the dream, but live the dream, I say! So today was a day for us to go shopping for Curt’s bike. He had already done some investigating via the internet before we left for Spain and found several bike stores in Cartagena, which is a town on the eastern coast of Spain about an hour away. If it seems like every place I write about is “about an hour away” it is true. The location of our Spanish casa is great! You can draw a radius of an hour’s drive in all directions and will find yourself on multiple beaches, in the mountains, at a lake, in the desert, at a nature park, or at a ski resort. It just depends which direction you choose to travel.

We headed to Cartagena, armed with the addresses of three bike shops. Two were in what is called the polígono industrial or industrial park, which you will find on the outskirts of towns. This is where you find larger stores that are selling construction materials, big furniture stores, or car dealers. How hard could it be to find giant stores on the outskirts of a town??… insert ominous music here..

Suffice it to say that addresses plus able bodied intelligent people plus stupid phone that keeps rebooting every single time you try to access a map does not equal happiness. Quite the contrary. It equals frustration and lots of it. I was inclined to search the outskirts of the town, thinking that a giant industrial zone might be easier to spot than a shop in the old downtown area, but who am I to deprive Curt of the fun of driving around and around and around this lovely town?

Plaza de Jaime Bosche, Cartagena

Plaza de Jaime Bosche

Oh happiness! There is a tourist information center just on the other side of this plaza! But as luck would have it, just as we reach the entrance, the huge metal gate-like doors swing shut, and a booming latch is drawn much like closing up a castle door.

Siesta Time, people! Hasta luego!

Tourist information center, Cartagena

Cerrado!

Disgusted with the phone.

Disgusted with his phone.
(Hmmm… my iPhone never has those problems… I’m just saying…)

Just when we were at the end of our wits, we stopped at a Repsol (gas station) and Curt went in and asked the guy if he had a map of Cartagena. The guy was super nice and gave him what we fondly call a “fun map” of Cartagena. This is a map that shows some streets, but not all, and its main purpose is to show someone the highlights of the town. None of which involve the polígono industrial, of course.

Cartagena

We drove along the harbor….

Cartagena war memorial

A sculpture and war memorial that is dedicated to the soldiers who fought and died in Cavite, Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

Bike lanes in Cartagena

These bike lanes in Cartagena look like their own streets!

Luckily we were able to somehow piece together bits of the map and believe it or not found the downtown bike shop — just in time for siesta! So it was closed!

Ciclos Curra, Cartagena

Patience is a virtue.

Looking through the windows, we could see that they only sold mountain bikes, but as luck would have it, they had a map to their larger store posted on the window! This showed us how to get to the polígono industrial! I took pictures of the map with my fully functioning phone, and then we headed next door to  get something to eat, since nothing would be open again until 5:00.

The restaurant next door was called Sabor Andaluz. We ate lomo y patatas y huevos, which was pork loin and potatoes with a fried egg. It was really good. This was not a “touristy” restaurant at all. Lots of Spanish people were there. It was a good place to sit back, have a café con leche, and regroup a little before trying to find this elusive polígono industrial.

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz menu

Test yourself with the Sabor Andaluz tapas menu! What would you order??

Sabor Andaluz, Cartagena, Spain

Just a teeny bit stressed…

Sabor Andaluz

Lunch!

Sabor Andaluz waiter

Yes, the guy in the black shirt was someone’s waiter.
Yes, he is smoking while working.
And yes, the beer near him went down nicely with the smoke, but I didn’t get a picture of that…

While we relaxed with our meal (we had a while before siesta would be over, so why rush?) we noticed this thing that looked like a deposit box of some sort. It was a bit like a mailbox, but it was actually a trash bin. It looked small, but apparently what you put down the slot must fall down into some gigantic bin under the street because people came one after the other dropping in their bags of trash. One guy, who must have been a janitor for some building actually brought cartloads of trash, bags, boxes, etc and it all disappeared into this little drop box. I was so curious as to how large the underground bin was, and how they went about emptying it… Can you tell I was fascinated with this thing??

Cartagena trash

Mysterious….

Stomachs full, and nerves calmed, we hit the road again in search of the bike shop in the polígono industrial. Due to my fantastic co-piloting skills and Curt’s keen ability to navigate the Spanish streets, we managed to find it lickity split. There were two shops in the industrial area, so we visited both, picked out a bike, spoke “cave-man Spanish” to the salesperson, and amazingly enough got everything sorted out to purchase. It was easy as pie! …insert happy music which is followed by screeching halt sound here…

Now, trust me, I am happy to know that credit card companies are on the lookout for thieves and fraudulent activity, BUT when your card is declined after spending an entire day driving around a strange city, having doors literally closed on your nose, getting somewhere only to arrive at a time when the place is closed for two more hours, then finally thinking the whole shopping craziness will soon be over, only to have the guy behind the counter say (and trust me, you know it in any language) “No, the card doesn’t go through,” you want to scream. And I don’t mean stomp your foot and pout — I mean full on scream like in a crazy movie where the camera pans back and you see the windows rattle and people cower.

So yes, this is what we had to deal with next: calling our credit card companies and letting them know they needed to take the blocks off of our cards.

Fast forward to the final scene…

Ciclo Curros, Cartagena

Buying the bike.
Finally.

 

 

 

 

Exploring to the west

Exploring to the west

Looking south from our house we could see that there were some old railway tracks, so we decided to spend the next day doing some exploring. We drove along and found the old Arboleas station. A ruin, now, but had some character. We parked the car across the street and had to climb up a little hill and battle some weeds and brambles to get to it. Of course just taking a picture from the road was not good enough for me! I had to go inside.

Arboleas train station

The old Arboleas station

Arboleas station

Do you see the prickly pear cactus growing on the roof??

Totally run down and falling apart, the station is only used as housing for the birds. They obviously eat the prickly pears and have “deposited the seeds” on the roof! The inside of the building was in bad shape. Originally it must have had some nice tiles on the floors, but now it is a mess!

Inside the station

Inside the old station

We liked the tiles with ARBOLEAS on them, though.

Arboleas

Since it was January, we thought it would be fun to drive about an hour to the west toward Baza and see some snow as we got further toward the mountains. So we took off for a little drive west and made a loop to the south and east to return back home.

Driving west

Driving west

Toward Baza

There’s some snow!

Sheep

Sheep!

It was a really nice drive. We were amazed at how different the terrain was just going about an hour west. Our casa is in a great location because about an hour east or south and we are at the beach; about an hour west or north and we are close to the mountains… we have so much to explore!

 

 

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba

Spur of the moment sightseeing is awesome as far as I’m concerned, so I was excited to see what this Alcazaba was all about. We drove through Almeria, not really knowing where we were going. Luckily the Alcazaba is on a hill, so we knew which direction we should be heading in, and there were some signs here and there to guide us. We finally reached the Alcazaba and parked along a narrow road, thinking that we could just walk up the road to get to the fortress.

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba

When Curt parked the car, and we got out, I notice a HUGE amount of dog/cat poop along the side of the road. Geez! It was crazy. Talk about landmines… this fortress didn’t need walls, the poo could keep people out!

The road was steep on the way up, and there were some crazy daredevils on motorized scooters zipping along; and a man walking two dogs, one of which was just skin and bones, but other than that we didn’t see any tourists coming to visit this huge fortress and we thought that was a little odd. No matter, we just kept hoofing it up the hill. All of a sudden, Curt thought he might have left the car unlocked, so we went back down and this time decided to drive the car up to the top. When we reached the top of the hill, there were some stairs to what seemed to be one of the towers.

Alcazaba stairs

 

Alcazaba tower

The views from up here were beautiful, and we hadn’t even gone up the stairs yet! We were really interested to find out what would be at the top. (**insert ominous foreshadowing music here… again**)

View of Almeria port

View of the port of Almeria

Okay, so we climbed up the stairs and found that they led to… nowhere. I mean, pretty much nowhere, because they just led to the backside of the fortress where it seems that young people probably hang out and drink or smoke. There were lots of cigarette butts and broken beer and wine bottles, but other than that it was not an entrance to the rest of the fortress. We head back down the stairs, and back down the narrow road…

Down the stairs at the Alcazaba

“Nothing to see here, folks…”

Alcazaba road

Along the road we met up with a one-eyed cat. He looked pretty hardscrabble.

One-eyed cat Almeria

“You’d be cranky too if you had to walk through all these stinky ‘land mines’ !”

When we got to the bottom of the hill, we realized that we had driven right past the main entrance. (oops) We parked the car along the side of the road again, and made our way to the ticket office.

Alcazaba entrance

The actual entrance

At the ticket counter, the man asked where we were from. When we said “Los Estados Unidos” he said, “Oh, then it’s free.” Not ones to question ‘free,’ we went on in. I’m not sure what the fee is if you are not from the U.S.

We knew nothing about the Alcazaba before visiting it, but you can read all about it here. It was a beautiful fortress with a lot of history.

Alcazaba archway

Beautiful arches

Alcazaba gardens

Gardens

Alcazaba Looking out

“Who goes there??”

Alcazaba

Steep sides!

Alcazaba

Irrigation

Irrigation system

Archeological remains are still being excavated in one portion. In this area you can walk through what were once baths, pools, and palace rooms.

Ongoing excavations at La Alcazaba

Ongoing excavations at La Alcazaba

It was in this part of the Alcazaba that we met up with Los Gatos de La Alcazaba! Okay, so I have no idea if they have such a name, but if not, they should. There were cats everywhere. Sunning themselves on the walls, sleeping in planters, napping on windowsills…

Alcazaba cats

Alcazaba cat

Sleeping Alcazaba cat

Fuzzy Alcazaba cat

sleepy Alcazaba cat

Alcazaba Cat

Many Alcazaba cats

How many can you spot in this picture?

After walking through this area, we got to the third enclosure which was the Christian castle. The backside of this was where we had been when we first went up the narrow road and up those stairs. Seeing things from inside was much more interesting!

Alcazaba

Alcazaba Christian Castle

Alcazaba Christian castle

Alcazaba

Alcazaba view

Alcazaba cannons

cannons

Cannon

The view was really pretty from the highest vantage point. You could see over the port of Almeria: all the houses, buildings, and ships.

view fromt he Alcazaba

The view from the Alcazaba

We left La Alcazaba. I was glad that we stopped here and had a look at this fortress. It was a good way to spend the last part of the day. We made our way back through Almeria and drove to Arboleas.

Almeria

Almeria

Almeria to Aroleas

On the road again…

 

 

My NIE… finally!

My NIE… finally!

We had to get up nice and early to meet up with Lucas to make our way to the Oficina de Extranjeros or Foreigner’s Office. It was not easy to drag out of bed because, although the bedroom was toasty warm, the bathroom and downstairs were muy frio! After making coffee in the french press (also left by the previous owner) and having eggs, bread and marmalade, we were ready to head out. (As a side note: we noticed that the eggs were super “eggy” if that makes any sense. A little like when you buy organic, free range chicken eggs in the States, but even more “eggy.” They were awesome.)

Once again we felt like we were in some movie, because Lucas told us to meet him at a roundabout just off one of the highways on the way to Almeria. We stopped at that roundabout and waited for his car. Some guy pulled up and stopped on the other side of the roundabut and we thought, “Is that him? It looks like a different car…” and when we drove over, we did indeed find that it was some other random guy waiting for someone else. I guess it’s normal to meet people at roundabouts!

Lucas arrived shortly after that and we followed him to Almeria. On the way down, we saw lots and lots of greenhouses. I mean LOTS! Apparently millions of tons of vegetables are exported from here each year. While that’s great as far as the production of fruits and vegetables goes, it wasn’t too pretty for the landscape. From the car, it was hard to get a good picture, but it was literally miles and miles of greenhouses.

Greenhouses in Almeria province

Almeria is a nice city on the south eastern coast and is the capital of the province of Almeria. We had never been there, so it was nice to drive down and see it. We followed Lucas downtown and went into the Foreigner’s Office. There were a lot of people in there waiting around, and we were obviously the only Americans there (Curt’s baseball cap is always the dead giveaway!) Lucas told us, “Wait here. Don’t move.” and left us. He rushed around and in a few minutes he came back and said, “Okay, stay here. I’m going to see if I can jump the queue.” Of course we did as we were told. There was a huge waiting room of people behind this glass, but we were on the other side where there was a huge room of desks and people rushing here and there. The next thing we knew, Lucas was back and said, “Come on! Follow me! Have your passport ready!” and we walked quickly to a lady’s desk at the back of the room. He spoke to her, she asked for my passport, she stamped a paper, and Lucas said, “Okay. That’s it! I’ll file it with the notary and everything will be fine.”

It just goes to show you that it helps when you know people who know people. Luckily Lucas is in good favor with the people there and was able to get us in and out of there quickly!

Almeria Foreigner's Office

Outside the Almeria Foreigner’s Office

On the road to Arboleas

On the road to Arboleas

It’s almost a five hour drive from Madrid to Arboleas. The highways are well taken care of, and the best thing of all is that people don’t hang out in the left hand lane driving under the speed limit. No road hogs here! Pass and shift back to the right hand lane, people. A lesson I wish more people here in the States would learn…

We decided to stop at a village to get something to eat, but unfortunately we weren’t thinking about the time and what might be open. I wish I could remember what the name of this town was, but I don’t recall now. This was a small village, and we honestly didn’t even see a bar or restaurant. What we did happen across was this: people walking along the main road…

Village

Wait! What’s that beyond that car on the right??

Is that a pony???

Pony

A pony??

Yes. It’s definitely a pony. How weird. Walking a dog? Sure. Walking a pony? Kind of strange. We continue on down the street and then we see THIS:

More ponies

More ponies??

Okay, are we seeing things or is there a grown man riding that pony straight ahead??

Man riding pony

YeeHaw!

The next thing that happened was the man fell off the pony and the other guy with the white horse laughed his head off. It was the funniest thing we’d seen yet. So odd. Maybe they were having some sort of equine festival or something, we had no idea; but I was glad we passed through that little village and got to see that bit of silliness!

We left the village and got back on the highway. We needed to find somewhere to eat because we were going to start getting cranky if we didn’t get some food and coffee soon!

Alternative energy is a big deal in Spain. So we passed fields of solar panels and traditional looking windmills and more modern wind turbines.

Solar panels

Fields of solar panels

Windmills

Don Quixote where are you??

Turbines

Wind turbines

Stomachs growling, we stopped at this gas station to get something to eat. Don’t judge, now, because in Spain a gas station is typically a great place to eat! It is not like stopping at the Quickie Mart for a microwave burrito here in the US. This place was run by an old Spanish guy who at first seemed a little peeved at us — he started impatiently rattling off all the bocadillo options and Curt interrupted him and said, “Dos bocadillos jamon y queso, y dos cafes con leche.” and then the man was quite friendly. I guess he was happy to hear our attempts at Spanish!

When you order a coffee in Spain, even at a gas station, the beans are ground right then and they pull a fresh espresso for you. There is no drip coffee carafe hanging around for hours. This is the real thing, people, and I’m not talking Coca Cola!

While the owner of this fine establishment was making our coffee and sandwiches, Curt chit chatted with him, and I went to the ladies room. I knew we were in rural Spain when I heard chickens clucking outside the open bathroom window. Look at the cool old-timey toilet tank and flusher!

Toilet tank

A pull chain flusher!

We felt much better after our late lunch, and got back on the road after bidding adios to the owner of the gas station and his family who were eating their own meal at an adjacent table.

The closer we get to Arboleas, the more scenic the drive. There are more mountains, and it gets a bit greener.

Mountains

It’s interesting to see this road sign. Morocco is fairly close, and there is still a lot of Moorish influence in Spain, so that explains the Arabic. There are only a couple of signs in Arabic along the way, which is a good thing otherwise we would’ve been totally lost!

Arabic Road sign

Near Huercal-Overa

Near Huercal-Overa

The last picture was about half an hour from Arboleas. It was too dark to take a picture once we got in town. We checked in to the Hostal Meson which is only about a 5 minutes walk from our house. Although dark, the night was still young… we were going to have to get settled and then think about dinner.

 

Back to Madrid!

Back to Madrid!

We left Casa Olivos the next day at around noon and got back on the road to Madrid. Our plane was leaving early the next morning, so we wanted to make the five hour drive back to Madrid with enough time to relax and walk around before calling it a night.

Outside of Casa Olivos

peaje

Back to Madrid

We booked a room at the Hotel Clement Barajas. It was located fairly close to the airport and we figured this might make for an easier drive in the morning before we had to catch our flight.

Hotel Clement Barajas

 

The Hotel Clement Barajas turned out to be a great place to stay because it was modern and clean, had underground parking, and had a gas station right across the street.

Room at Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Barajas underground parking

The hotel was located in the Barrio de Barajas which was not “touristy” at all. We went for a walk that night and really enjoyed seeing all the local spanish people out for the evening with their families: walking along the streets, having drinks in the bars, and sitting outside at the plaza.

Barrio de Barajas

Adios, Madrid!

Adios, Madrid!

…But first a quick dash into the Museo del Jamon (which by the way, is not a museum of the history and importance of ham in Spain, as we thought, but a restaurant!!) for a couple of bocadillos mixtos!

Museo del Jamon

…then back into the bowels of the parking garage to retrieve the car…

Whaaat?!? Why is this police car now blocking the exit to the garage as we are trying to leave?? Oh well, “we are in Spain”… so we open the bag of bocadillos and have lunch while we wait for the police to get back from the traffic accident…

Police car blocking garage exit

And now we are on our way to Albox and our stay at Casa Olivos!

Leaving Madrid

 

Windmills! But otherwise pretty barren.