Torrox Costa part 1. Helen's visit
WARNING to vegetarians, pescatarians, those with anorexia or bulimia and to my friends in Slimming World. The following blog contains references to food and graphic descriptions of eating, particularly of large quantities of meat.
We had a couple of days of heavy rain just before we left Finca de Piedra, which meant the little unmade- up road down the hill to the site was somewhat muddy. Jeff, the site owner, kindly drove his big Toyota 4WD to the top of the lane, in case we got stuck, but our trusty Santa Fe, in 4WD lock, crawled up the hill with no problem. The downside, of course, was that as soon as we hit the good road all the mud which had gathered on the car wheels immediately flew off and coated the front of the caravan. Just a few miles further on we stopped for fuel at a gas station which had a jet spray car wash. Even a couple of Euros worth of soapy power jet spray struggled to remove the splattered coating!
Our destination was Camping El Pino, on the hill above Torrox Costa. This was a site we had visited a few years ago, aiming to stay a couple of days and ending up staying a couple of weeks. It is very difficult to pin down what it is about El Pino. The site is pretty ordinary, with a variety of pitch sizes, three or four small, but basic, unheated wash blocks, showers that pour water like a tap instead of sprinkling as a shower should, outside dishwashing with cold water only. The pitches are drab and just soil and grit based, gouged and rough in places. There are plenty of trees, mostly in the wrong places, and there are a lot of wooden cabins for rent or privately owned. In fact, looked at objectively, it is not really a very good site at all!
Yet everybody on this site, including us, originally came for a few days on the way from A to B and stopped a bit longer. Some ended coming back the following year. Our neighbours here have been coming for six years or so and are good friends with the Dutch couple over the road who have been coming for longer. Many who used to spend the winter touring now come here and set up camp for three or four months. Some who are no longer up to towing a caravan down here have given up the caravan and have bought or rent one of the cabins.
It was good too to meet up with one of the regular contributors to the caravan internet forum I use (and who is a regular reader of this blog too). He first came here, if I recall rightly, in 1997, and has come nearly every winter since. Sadly his wife died a few years ago so he sold up and gave up caravanning. However he missed it so much he bought a new outfit and has returned. He has a prime spot near the site entrance and knows everyone as they come and go. If I am still caravanning when I am 86 I will be a very happy man. Well done JD.
Torrox Costa is a pretty ordinary sort of resort, too. Not overdeveloped, but nothing special. It has a nice promenade, the usual hotel and apartment blocks, a great number of expat Brits and Germans. The promenade is lined with bars, ice cream parlours and restaurants of most nationalities, some of which are closed for January and February. However there are enough to give plenty of choice and the German contingent ensures that there are plenty of CAKES! Most have special offers, coffee and cake for €3 or even €2.50, which is just a couple of pounds for a decent coffee and a huge slab of gateau. Or a tub of super ice cream for €2.20. What, ice cream in January? Yes, sitting out on the prom in short sleeved shirt too, reading the news about snow bound England!
There were a few things we needed to do before Helen arrived. First were haircuts. Mine is straightforward. Charge up the battery on the shears and Lesley can buzz all over. Who could go wrong? (no comment needed please). Lesley's hair requirements are not so easy. She has always hated having her hair done, and to ask for it in a foreign language is even harder. We went into Torrox and were walking towards a hairdresser’s when we heard English voices discussing it. We approached them and chatted and the lady directed us to another hairdresser at the end of the road, who, she said, spoke English and does hers for her. So we went there, to find it was closed for siesta, open again at 4:30. So we had to go and sit on the prom outside one of the bars with a beer for half an hour. Hardship for me, Dutch courage for Lesley. At 4:30 we walked up to the hairdresser expecting to make an appointment, but she would do it straight away. Of course it meant I had to go away and have an ice cream while Lesley was sheared. I will spare Lesley the embarrassment of the ins and outs of her half hour in there, suffice it to say that when she came out, but for the lack of colour in her hair, she could have fronted the Small Faces, the Itchycoo Park '60s band. Next day it had settled back to its usual form though.
Next was some shopping. We were down to two dinner knives, as one by one the blades had come away from the handles. Cheap nasty Debenhams stuff! Carrefour provided us with an even cheaper nastier set, 24 items for €8. I don’t suppose they will last long, but it keeps Chinese children in employment. Bedding was the second problem. On past trips we have bought sleeping bags as a back up option. Of course this time we hadn’t. The caravan has twin beds, and when Helen stays she sleeps in one of the twins and I sleep on the dining table, (once it has been collapsed to form the base of a bed at the front of the van, that is) in the sleeping bag. Simple solution, Dunnes had king sized duvets going for a song in their sale. One of those wrapped round me would do fine.
Now we were all prepared, all that remained was to get to Malaga airport to pick Helen up. We left in good time, and the airport is very well served by fast motorway connections. Well, in winter, that’s as far as you get. Follow the signs for arrivals and head for the car park. Take a ticket, find a space, and walk out the exit marked arrivals. Cross a wide and deserted bus park to the long low modern building marked arrivals, which has umpteen doors all marked arrivals. Head for the nearest door to find a sign "out of order". Go to next door, same sign. Find that all the doors have the same sign. Return to car park and take lift to departures level. Walk along road past about twenty doors all marked departures. Eventually get to the main entrance and see a small sign pointing downstairs for arrivals. Decide that next time we will phone for a taxi to take us from the car park to the airport. Finally find the arrivals area. Helen’s flight had had a tail wind and landed early, and as she only had hand luggage she was off promptly, gagging for a drink. We had coffee and donuts to get some energy for the long trek back to the car, then back to the caravan for bread & cheese and a catch-up.
We were pleased how well Helen seemed after her bout of shingles. Apparently she had done yet another 12 consecutive days at work, and knowing Helen each day would have been at least 12 hours; the result was she got so tired and run down she opened herself up to it. Even then she wanted to stay at work, but was banned from the hospital. Let’s face it, shingles, operating theatres and pregnant ladies do not mix. She felt guilty that she was off work for the second time since she started Uni nearly 15 years ago, particularly as she had holiday booked for this week, which meant for the first time since school she had more than ten consecutive days off work!
The afternoon was hot and sunny so we had a walk along the prom to suss out a venue for Lesley’s birthday dinner and to sit with a beer or two. Our choice was a Brazilian barbeque restaurant, as we all felt a great need for meat. So Sunday evening we went back to town and walked along the prom to a cocktail bar for preprandial drinks. The bar, German owned, went under the attractive name of Bar Kunterbunt, and Helen and I enjoyed a couple of large Raderberg beers while Lesley had a Manhattan. At the Brazilian restaurant I had to pay a call and when I got back I found that Lesley and Helen had already ordered, although they were not sure quite what! A bottle of red wine appeared, followed by bowls of Russian salad, French fries, rice, black beans, chimichurri sauce, fried plantains, vinaigrette and a big bowl of salad. Our equipment, as well as knives and forks, included a large set of tongs each, a cross between old fashioned sugar cube tongs and those strange implements the French use for disembowelling snails. Ah, serving spoons to get hold of the salad etc? Maybe.
And then the performance began. The young Brazilian waiter appeared with three huge long kebab sticks, one with little chorizo sausages, one with chicken wings and one with chicken breasts wrapped in bacon. Very nice, thank you very much. A short while later he re-appeared with another kebab stick, this with meat on it. What is this? we asked. He made the appropriate animal noise and carved huge thick slices from the side, which we had to grab with our tongs as he completed the cut. Over the next hour we had, in random order, with the appropriate noise and gesture from the waiter for each, pork loin, pork spare ribs, pork leg, beef loin, beef rump, beef ribs, lamb leg, lamb breast, ham, each portion a meal in itself. Eventually we called it a draw and had to refuse any more. We were left for a while to digest this lot then he reappeared with whole pineapples, dusted with cinnamon, barbequed and served in the same way. Of course, being a Brazilian meal, we had to round the night off with a large capirinha each. To top it all with the bill came little tots of some Brazilian liqueur which I am sure Boots the Chemist would be interested in for cough linctus.
The following day had to be a quiet one, but we drove over to Nerja, the pretty coastal town a few miles east of us, for a coffee in the square overlooking the Balcon de Europe, a favourite spot of King Alfonso XII, the Bourbon who was proclaimed king at the end of the short-lived first Spanish Republic but who sadly died at the young age of 28 in 1885 very soon after visiting Nerja.
Like us, Helen is a great cat lover, so we took her down the steps at the side of the balcony where on previous visits we had met a huge colony of feral but friendly cats. Sadly there was only one manky timid ginger one there. Incidentally when we returned the following week there were plenty! However down on the beach we found a really friendly ginger cat. We have found feral cats all over Europe, in villages, in towns, in ruins, in campsites, but this is the first one we have ever found living on a beach!
We also visited the tourist office to see if we could book tickets to the Alhambra in Granada, but were told to go on line. Not good news for me for two reasons. Firstly the WiFi connection here is poor and erratic. In fact twice I have been down in the bar trying to log on and the laptop battery has run out before I could get a proper connection! The second problem is my laptop is slowly going mad. It has developed a life of its own. Even as I type this, with the only application working being Word and not connected to the net, the hard drive and fan are whirring like mad and the CPU is running at 100%. If I save a document then the next day the laptop tells me it can’t find it and I have to look for myself. Of course it is there, exactly where I told it to put it yesterday. Then it sulks and takes forever to open it, telling me every few minutes that such and such is not responding. I frequently find when I am typing that the cursor has jumped back a few lines and I am typing in the middle of the work I have already done. I have run three different virus checks and nothing wrong. Microsoft says my computer is running normally. I took the precaution of backing up all my files onto a separate hard drive the other day. That alone took 18 hours. I tried to defrag the hard drive, in spite of the fact that it told me it was working fine. The defrag took 36 hours. No difference. So that’s it for Microsoft I’m afraid. A number of people I know have moved to Linux and swear by it. As soon as I get home that’s what I shall do.
Anyway, I digress. After three hours trying and failing, logging on and being thrown off, I finally managed to book tickets for the Alhambra for the following day. To put this in perspective, I went down to the bar straight after lunch. Helen & Lesley washed up, sat with their books for a while, then walked the two miles down to the beach and along the prom and were on their second beer in the time it took me to buy three tickets. I am merrily typing away at this blog with no idea whether I will ever get it uploaded. Perhaps a trip to McDonalds is called for!
So on Tuesday, armed with all the details of the tickets I had bought (I could not print it out of course and there is not a mobile app) we set off for Granada. It is a lovely run, along the coast for 50km to Motril, then inland around the edge of the Sierra Nevada, climbing up 900 metres or so to Spain’s central plain. We parked at the huge Alhambra car park and went to the ticket office with proof that Lesley & I were elderly persons and collected the tickets for the 14:30 tour of the Nazrid palace. The rest of the Alhambra is available at any time, it is just the palace that is by timed entry. It was then we found that having a 14:30 time for the palace meant we were not allowed onto the grounds until 14:00, a bit of a B as I had planned to look at some of the grounds, pop down into town for lunch then come back up for the tour. Not to worry, we then walked all the way down into town and stopped at the first bar for coffee and croissants.
Granada is a large and busy city with many grand buildings, impossible to do justice on a day trip. We limited ourselves to the cathedral, which to my mind is quite obscenely huge, the walk up the old quarter by the riverside and up the hill to the Albaicin, which was the original Roman & Moorish centre before the Alhambra was built on the opposite hill. The street map we had picked up at the tourist office was close to useless. The print was so small it needed a magnifying glass to read, which had not been provided. The result was we took a lot of wrong turns and went up and down far more than was really necessary, but did manage to find most of the important spots and enjoyed the walk.
Back down in town we decided it was time to eat. We found a little street with a couple of tapas bars and picked what we though was the better one. It was absolutely deserted, not even anyone behind the bar. So we crossed the street to the other one, walked in to find it packed with a huge tour of Japanese, all eating like mad. We could not back out because the barman had immediately collared us, so we perched ourselves on high stools at the only available table, which was rather small and wobbly, with three beers. We looked at the tapas menu and decided on four dishes, when the barman appeared with a bowl of olives and a plate of three slices of crusty bread each covered with a slice of roast pork and a slice of tomato, surrounded by crisps. “Gratis” he said. “Muchas gracias” we replied and immediately reduced the tapas order we were about to make to two dishes, a plate of fried aubergine (in a lovely delicate crisp tempura batter) and two long green peppers stuffed with herbs and minced pork. Very tasty and just the job to keep us going! Of course balancing all these plates on a table that was not much bigger than a plate itself took some doing. Every time we arranged the food so we could put an empty plate under another plate out of the way a small Manuel -type waiter leapt over to remove the empty plate. Every time a piece of cutlery was dropped (quite frequently, thanks to Lesley’s dyspraxia) there he was with a clean implement almost before the dropped one hit the floor.
There was a mini bus service running from the city centre up to the Alhambra, so we decided to save our legs and joined the old folk and Japanese tourists for the short ride up the hill, reaching the Palace in time for our allotted entry. We described the Alhambra in great detail in a previous blog, so I shan’t go to great lengths here. Suffice it to say the Nazrid Palace is still as jaw droppingly beautiful as it ever was. Helen was expecting wonders, but even she was amazed at how much there is there. Here are some pictures to refresh the memories of those of you who have seen it and to whet the appetites of those who haven’t.
Helen’s last day with us had to be a quiet one, after all that exercise in Granada. She was supposed to be convalescing, after all. After a lunch of bread and cheese we had a walk along the prom, stopping of course for ice creams and then for beers. As this is a bit of a foodie episode, a few words about that British staple lunch, bread and cheese, or if you are in a pub, the Ploughman’s. It is a concept unheard of in France and Spain, which is surprising being as the French Baguette and the Spanish Barra are the ideal vehicles for transporting cheese from plate to mouth. No, sur le continent they eat cheese as one course of a meal, with a knife and fork. Bread is to be eaten plain, unadorned, or scraped round a plate to soak up the oil and meat juices. Bread can also be toasted and dressed with tomato or a slice of ham or Manchega, but bread with butter? Bread with cheese? Bread with pickle? What is pickle??? What a waste. One of the joys of travel in France and Spain, for me, is eating crusty fresh bread with cheese, rounded off with bread and strawberry jam (or, on this trip, home made raspberry jam courtesy of our good friend Elisabeth). And as for the cheese, the contrast between France and Spain is incredible. France is famed for its cheese, soft, hard, ripe, mouldy, whatever. Spain is famed for its Manchega. Spain has hard cheese, very hard cheese, not so hard cheese, ripe cheese, new cheese, mature cheese, yellow rind, black rind, but they are all Manchega, made from ewe’s milk. Very nice, but I like a soft smelly cheese, so have to rely on imports. Shame it is so fattening. I should amend my earlier comment from what a waste to what a waist!
We took Helen back to the airport on Thursday and she left the warm sun of the Costa del Sol for the snow and ice of Gatwick. It was great to see her, even if it was only for a few days. I could talk at length about the Sino-Japanese noodle meal we had in the shopping centre on the way back from the airport, but that’s enough food for now!
In the next blog: a bit about Laurie Lee country, Almunecar & Salobrena, and also seeing people sitting in a hot pool in the mountains, during our second week in Torrox.