Category Archives: Europe 2016

Day 35, Monday 16 May 2016 – Melbourne to Mildura

By the time we arrived in Melbourne, after crossing several time zones, and with a tail wind of 235kph, it was 5:45am. I felt like my eyeballs were halfway down my cheeks, and I had read almost two books.

Russ re-joined me just before we went into landing mode so we spent the last half hour of our flight catching up with each other. Thank heavens I have my ear planes. Even with their assistance my ears had started to crackle by the time we had made it safely to the ground.

We had filled out or Australian Immigration Declaration cards earlier in the flight, and had remembered – this time – to tick the box that said we had drugs that we were bringing into the country, and thought we would need to go through the Items to Declare gateway. We didn’t, because they have changed the way they handle all this stuff.

We went to the baggage carousel and collected our cases without any hassles. While we had been waiting for them to arrive Russ had grabbed a luggage carrier so we loaded everything aboard and took off for Immigration and passport control.

They only now have two gates there. One for travellers with Australian passports or those okay’d by government agreement with other countries, and then one gateway for everyone else. You ‘hold both passport and card in your hand as you approach (and the guys were so friendly! – I love Australia) and they read your declaration.

Phillip (our friendly Declarations control man) chivvied us both as I had not crossed the ‘No’ boxes after crossing the ‘Yes’ box for the drugs, and Russ had forgotten to sign his Declaration Card. Needless to say, when Phillip looked at the cards he requested us to confirm that the drugs box crossed referred to our own medications on prescriptions that we had taken out of the country in the first place, and we were happy to assure him they were.

We then hoofed it to the Qantas Domestic terminal – no trains or shuttles involved – and went to the Baggage Drop area, which was a real adventure in itself. Neither Russ nor I have ever used a Baggage Drop area before and they are all automated and electronic. We had to put the first suitcase onto the weigh belt and put in our transaction number from our ticket, and it then –supposedly – read the info off the tag that had been applied in Dubai when the luggage was logged through to Mildura. There was only one problem with that. It was trying to read the tag from the centre of the suitcase handle and I didn’t have any handles left on my suitcase.

So Russ dutifully changed the position of my suitcase and we tried again. The tag was attached to the extension handle of my case and we had to start to extend the handle so that we could put it in the area where the scanning of any barcode occurred. Lots of fun.

Then, once we had the scan part down, it advised me that my suitcase may not make the connecting flight as it was tagged too heavy for the aircraft, unless weight restrictions of the domestic flight had not been exceeded, in which case it may make it Mildura with us.

Russ’s case scan went relatively easy after that as we knew how to position the case for optimum scanning capabilities, even as he is only missing the centre handle of his case.

Finally the cases were taken care of and we headed for our departure gate, which was still in the dark when we got there. So, we parked ourselves at an earlier number and while Russ minded the carry-on luggage, I went to spend some Australian money. I got us some water (unfortunately, I did not check it before I purchased it as I was now almost brain dead, and it turned out to be sparkly mineral water – not the best), a cup of hot chocolate and a chai latte with a muffin for each of us.

Did I mention that I love Australia? We have our problems like any other country, but it was so good to be home where the water tasted right, and the chai tasted like chai, and the muffins…you get the picture.

After a while spent watching English speaking television, it was time to move to our departure gate where the lights were now shining. We parked ourselves once more and waited. The plane from Launceston arrived, the plane to Canberra took off, the plane for Sydney took off, and our flight from Mildura arrived.

We had another half hour to wait before we were called to board our plane. In the meantime Russ had been watching the loading of luggage onto the Mildura flight and was able to report that my lime green suitcase had been loaded along with his royal blue one.

We had an uneventful flight to Mildura where we had declined a snack tray but accepted a drink, and were finally approaching Mildura runway. Russ waited at the baggage carousel while I took the hand luggage out to Brett who was waiting in the Pick-up spot with the Honda. Soon Russ joined us with the bags and we were almost home.

The cats greeted us warmly, Brett went off to work, and Russ and I unpacked our suitcases so that I could attack the washing later on. When we had finished with the bags we thanked them for their service our many a long journey and placed them outside to go to ‘Around Again’’.

Russ put himself to bed but, unfortunately, I had my second wind. So, I started the washing. I had about three full loads to do, some minor load, and some handwashing. From the family area I could hear Russ snoring.

We have had a wonderful trip, met some incredible and lovely people along the way, taken a grand total of 17, 654 photos between Russ and myself, in JPG format only, and have some amazing memories from the experience. It’s good to be home.

Day 34, Sunday 15 May 2016 – Dubai to Australia

Up bright and early and down to breakfast only to discover that it would not be open for another half hour as it is Sunday – you have to think of these things when you travel. I knew I should have ordered room service breakfast!

Finally allowed into the restaurant and it was a buffet choice – no cereals whatsoever – so I had scrambled eggs with turkey bacon and Russ went for the fruit selection. Waiting staff on both occasions at the restaurant have been very attentive and polite.

Back to our room for teeth cleaning, closing of suitcases, check for passports and e-ticket info (just in case) and we went downstairs to settle out account. I left that with Russ and guarded our carry-on luggage as the bell boy had taken over on the suitcases.

Russ was very pleased with the reception transaction. As part of our booking the breakfasts were included (even though we didn’t use the first one) and even with charging the room service on the first day and the meal at night to our room we only had to account for $20.00 on the credit card as Russ had used our dirham (which we never got to use at the Miracle Garden) to cover the extra.

Just as well we came downstairs early as the driver also arrived very early. By 7:55am we were in the transfer vehicle and on our way to the airport. Our driver was from India (as most of them are) and he was a real chatty catty. He explained that most of the drivers come across from India as the pay is better, and they can send most of it home. He also said that the company that employed them worked their rosters so that they share accommodation on the hot bed principle – three shifts and when one finishes the one in bed gets up and so on. He said it became difficult if someone was working nights and the other in the place was trying to cook. They work for eleven months and then have four weeks at home in India. I sure as heck couldn’t do it.

We arrived at the terminal and took our gear inside. We lined up at the requisite checkout line and waited our turn. As it was still reasonably early we did not have very long to wait. Out tickets were confirmed, our bags loaded and ticketed all the way to Mildura, and we took off to find the train which would take us to our gate terminal.

Of course that meant we had to go through passport control and scanners before we could embark on our train. Neither of us had too much trouble with the passport control, but the guys working the desks have such a top lofty superior attitude that they turn my nose. Then we went through the scanner process which meant unloading computers, mobile phones, watch, vest, and ereader etc and waiting to be waved through the body scanner. Finally all together once more and we headed for the train terminal – another walk.

Once we arrived – a very efficient way to travel, especially if there are not large crowds of people – we walked along to our departure gate where there were no seats – of course! As we were early we went further along where seating was available and parked ourselves. We had used our dirhams so there was no money for water, but then we would have had to drink it all anyway as Emirates does not allow liquid over 100ml through their control points and onto the planes.

Russ got up and went for a walk while I read my book, and when he returned I went for a stroll and used the restrooms – very clean and tidy, spacious and even a lot of cubicles.

Finally the line at our departure gate started to move so we collected our gear and joined it. Many more people continued to arrive in the line after we did. There was no difficulty getting through the first hurdle as we only had to show our passports and boarding passes.

Once through that doorway we were separated! The men went through two lines, and the women had four lines, where carry-on bags were opened and inspected and anything not allowed on board was parted from its owner.

You would think that we should have passed through at the same time but women end up carrying all the gear when travelling, especially when babies are concerned, and there were quite a number of tots attached to mums waiting in the line.

Finally it was my turn, and Russ had been standing grinning on the other side for quite some time, and chatting to the other men also waiting for their significant others, and I was parted from my room deodoriser as it was a 135ml container even though the amount of liquid in it was severely diminished at this point. Oh well, nearly home.

Finally we went through the door together and landed in the next waiting room. Emirates has a very strange way of getting people on planes from Dubai. It is not a simple process by any means. At least they make their announcements in English in a clear manner so as to be understood properly the first time.

It wasn’t long after we arrived that they started moving the first class, business class and children through the boarding tubes and then we were left to wait for our group to be called. A & C groups board through the front door of the aircraft and B & E groups board through the rear doors – that was us this time.

The staff at Emirates are first rate – very classy whether ladies or men, and I know their politeness is expected, but many of them appear to be very genuinely greeting you and welcoming you aboard.

The seats we had were good. When we chose them the entire seat was vacant and we were hopeful that it would remain that way, but another man had been given the other end of our four seat row. Unfortunately, we also had families with three babies and two older children in the seats in front of us. One of them was a pampered princess and she was just painful – probably two to three years old and Daddy’s darling. Well, Daddy was well and truly frustrated and tired at the end of the journey, let me assure you, but so were many of us who were seated around them.

Russ had a chance to move further back in the plane to seat 81, which was a second row seat but didn’t have any seat in front of it. He managed to get a bit more sleep than I did. The plane was running half an hour late when we left Dubai but was still expected to reach Melbourne just after our originally expected arrival time on 5:25am.

Day 33, Saturday 14 May 2016 – Dubai

This morning we woke up about 9:30am and promptly went back to sleep for another half hour. We are both dehydrated and Russ has a headache as a result. We had some of our mueslis bars for breakfast with a big drink, and then Russ put on his eye-mask and went back to sleep. I quietly moved around and had a shower – a really lovely shower with plenty of room in the shower bath and bathroom itself, and plenty of hot water. However, a very male dominated society, with plenty of power points for things like shavers, but no Hair Dryer!!!!!! Just as well I have curls and can get away without using one. It was already 41 degrees outside so there is no way we will get to see the Miracle Gardens.

While Russ has slept I went online and checked the mail, checked FB and then started on the update to the blog. The Pies play Brisbane this afternoon (1:35pm our time) and I can listen to the game on the computer for the first time since we left Australia.

Room service for lunch, and Russ had a Steak Sandwich while I had a Club Sandwich. Russ thoroughly enjoyed the shower too. There is an Italian Restaurant downstairs so we may venture there for dinner tonight.

Our car transfer will pick us up tomorrow morning at 7:10am and we will be on our second last flight for the trip – 13 hours and ten minutes of flight time. We arrive in Melbourne on Monday morning at 5:25am (change in time zones during the flight), and our plane to Mildura leaves Tullamarine at 8:25am.

This is the first time we have had to catch up with any news, especially Australian news, and are trying to catch up on what has been missed. Tomorrow is going to be a really lonnnng day.

I supplied Russ with the info for Arabian Adventures and he rang them to confirm our transfer to the airport tomorrow morning, and they supplied him with the time they would pick us up from Reception – 8:10am. He then went online and we chose our seats for the next part of the trip. We were not able to get seat 67 or 80 as recommended by Jeannie on the first leg, but still think we got a chance at a reasonably good place.

Russ finally decided that he needed more sleep so he put on his ear plugs and let the audio book take over in the background. I did some repacking – properly – and then tuned into ABC radio on the computer for the Collingwood-Brisbane game in Brisbane. I have missed the footy no end, and keeping updated on AFL Live and through Jeannie only helps to fill the void.

It was a good game and we beat the pants off them, but we should have annihilated them if we had kicked straight.

By the time the game was over Russ and I got ready to go down for tea only to be told when we arrived down stairs that the restaurant was not open for another half hour. So, we went back upstairs and read some.

Back downstairs again and we were invited into a small eating area off the main pathway of the restaurant and given menus. Russ had seafood marinara and I had veal. Nothing to write home about, but it was okay. The bacon was turkey bacon, and was a bit different.

Back to our room and we set everything up for tomorrow morning as we would like to be downstairs with plenty of time to spare before our driver arrives, and hopefully we sleep well.

Day 32, Friday 13 May 2016 – Madrid to Dubai

We met in the lobby as requested last night, and had to move around the corner to the area we first met at the start of the tour. Some were a bit late getting there but finally all arrived.

Tania handed out a gift to each person who had previously travelled on a Trafalgar Tour – some as many as five times – and Russ received a key damascene key chain and I received a damascene locket to place on a chain. They are lovely small gifts (very important when you are trying to cram everything you purchased into the same suitcase you arrived with) and had also bought some small item of memorabilia for those few who were on their first tour, which was a very nice thought on her behalf.

Tania also handed out the survey forms to everyone. She has one for each person, not just one per couple, which can be either good or bad depending on how you want to handle it. Russ was more than happy to take his, and we bother decided we would fill it out tomorrow after breakfast, but Tania encouraged everyone to do it now and get it done so she could collect the envelopes.

Sharon took out the prize for the person who guessed closest to the number of kilometres we had travelled, and Michael (Linda’s husband, not Yadira’s husband) took out second prize.

We then boarded the coach and were taken to a Spanish restaurant where we had our Farewell Dinner. We had been given a menu earlier in the day yesterday and asked to choose what we wanted for our meal.

For appetizer the only thing I could think to have that wouldn’t offend my palate was a garlic and egg soup – very bad choice. It was extremely oily (you could see it floating on top of the bowl) and they had filled it with bread, which was even oiler, and after one taste I decided it was in my best interest to forgo the soup. The maitre’d asked if I wanted something else and I just said not for me, but thanks.

The next course I had ordered the mixed paella, and Russ had the steak. He thoroughly enjoyed his steak, and I ate all my paella, but it was nothing to write home about. I thought the paella in Barcelona was much better, and so was the one in Toledo. We followed that up with Baked Alaska, and they should have stuck with a Spanish dessert as it was not up to scratch, but eatable (apart from the frozen fruit stuck to the bottom).

We sat near the end of one table with Charles and Evelyn and Linda and Michael opposite. I can’t remember who sat on the other side of Russ. We had both left our phones behind in our room, but everyone else took the opportunity to go around the tables and take pics of people enjoying themselves. Charles took a lovely shot of Russ and I and I asked him to email it to me. I hope he remembers.

We were served with a half glass of champagne but a toast of any sort never eventuated, so most of it got left on the tables when we left. We did get serenaded by three Spanish gentlemen with guitars, dressed as troubadours, and they were very good. They also sang Waltzing Matilda and everyone sang it with them. One of the guys (Canada or US) said they actually learnt the song at school as part of their curriculum. Their CD was available for 15 euros.

When we were leaving the restaurant and walking back to the coach I was talking with Kath and we realised that we would be on the same flight to Dubai tomorrow. We told Russ and Rex and they said they were already aware of it.

We arrived back at the hotel around 10:00pm and I was so glad that Russ had had a very good rest during the afternoon. We laid out our clothes ready for tomorrow and went to sleep. As we are leaving on the second coach to go to the airport we were able to sleep in until 8:00am, and set the alarm accordingly. Many others will need to get up early to catch the first coach to the airport as their flights are well before our, which will not depart Madrid airport until 3:25pm.

We decided that 9:00am was a good time to go down to breakfast, and while Russ was showering the phone rang with the wake-up call, and then rang again. When I answered it I spoke with Tania who was worried that we had not been down to breakfast yet, and was asking if everything was alright.  I assured her it was and that we would be down in about ten to fifteen minutes. She remarked that she needed to speak with us to arrange a refund on the two optional extra excursions that we had not been able to take. A very nice surprise indeed.

The breakfast room was very deserted with only those catching the second shuttle, and a few others who were staying an extra day or two in Madrid. Ken and Peggy said they would enjoy some time to wander at their leisure and to see places in more detail than was available with the group. Peggy assured us that they were waiting for it to rain so they wouldn’t feel strange while wandering.

We ate a quick breakfast – Russ not wanting a great deal in order to work best with his stomach so as not to feel queasy. We found Tania in the Reception area and she quickly came into the lounge section to sit with us.

Tania’s husband arrived into Madrid yesterday afternoon and picked up all her luggage as she will have to take a taxi home today once her duties are concluded. She only gets a week off this time before she takes on her next group tour.

The refund of our money was a speedy transaction, and we spoke to Tania in much more detail about Anxiety Disorder and how it can affect all levels of your existence. I also told her that Russell had been battling through the effects for 14 years, and that we had learned when enough was sometimes too much.

We then went back to our room and filled out the survey forms, enclosed them in the envelope and collected our gear to go down for the coach. We handed off our survey envelope to Tania and proceeded out to the coach. Tania is not coming to the airport with us, but will be at the hotel for the late departures which will use taxi or private transfer deals. ON the coach with us was Richard (with a very British accent) and some of his group as it is stupid to use two coaches when even one of them is not full. As it was our coach, George was our driver.

I sat behind Kath for the trip to the airport. We are needing to get to Terminal 4S (Satellite) so will be dropped off at the Emirates section of Terminal 4 first. Kath injured her knee just before the trip and thought it would get better with time. It hasn’t. Early in the trip she had emailed home and asked a friend to make her an appointment as early as possible after they arrived back in Australia to see the specialist. It may be that she will need an operation.

I asked her how long her stopover in Dubai was and she said only one and a half hours, which wouldn’t give them much time to move from one terminal to the other. I asked her how she was going to cope with a rapid walk after sitting for over seven hours in the plane and she said she was not sure, but it would hurt.

I remarked to her that she would be best able to ask for a courtesy transfer cart to meet them and get them there on time, and to explain to the operator that she had injured her knee and didn’t think she could walk the distance in time. Kath hadn’t realised this was available and said it was a good idea, and she had nothing to lose by asking.

When we offloaded at Terminal 4 the four of us moved into the building and headed for the Emirates check-in area. Kath and Rex had already picked their seats on line but Russ and I hadn’t. The boarding gates were not opened as yet and we did not expect them to be much before lunch time, so we headed around the corner to the seating area and chatted while we waited.

Kath headed to the duty free shop to spend her remaining euros, and I went the other way to the snack bar while Rex and Russ stayed with the luggage. I got some water, some muesli bars, and a Magnum for each of us – Russ and I, and Kath returned soon after with her spoils.

Finally, the boarding gates opened and we lined up. Russ and I got a very nice gentleman who said Russ could have an Exit row seat if he would like it, to which he promptly replied, Muchos Gracious, and we were issued our tickets. Our suitcases are still under the 30kg limit, but I have to confess that mine has added some weight, and Russ has added very little.

Kath and Rex joined us very quickly and Kath said the lady had arranged for their transfer buggy from the arrivals terminal to their next departure terminal when they landed at Dubai. The lady had also asked them if they would like to change their seat allocation as she could give them three seats in a row so Kath could stretch out her leg as and when required.

We then went to the restrooms, and then parted company as Kath needed to register her tax free purchase so she could get her refund before leaving the country. Russ and I headed for the shuttle service to get to terminal 4s. We had to go down, down and down before we arrived at the station platform. It wasn’t long before the train arrived (driverless) and we entered the tunnel under the runway to get to our satellite terminal.

We passed through customs without incident and went to find our departure gate – number 29 – and then wandered to find a place to eat. It was a up mode tapas bar and not a lot to choose from. I chose a fluffy omelette (you would think you couldn’t stuff that, hey??)  and Russ picked up a ham and cheese roll. They had to be heated, which was good, except that the omelette was potato and cold!! Russ enjoyed his anyway.

By the time we had finished eating Kath and Rex appeared and sat down too. Kath had emptied her water bottles earlier before the scanning area, and now went to refill them from the water dispenser. We sat at the table for a while and then moved back to the area for boarding. As we will be travelling on an A380 we were to be separated for boarding. Russ and I were in Group F and Kath and Rex were in Group E. We didn’t sight them again, but hope they had no problems with the flight or their connections.

Russ and I sat opposite Jeannie (the head Emirates hostie) and nattered while we took off from Madrid. Jeannie is from Kenya and will be retiring from her job soon to go home and find out where she wants to be for the future, and what she wants to do. She was a lovely lady and during the landing phase advised Russ that his best seat for the next leg of our journey would be 67 or 80 if he could get them. We thanked her very much.

The flight was uneventful and Russ enjoyed all the leg room. The meals with Emirates are excellent, and the service is awesome. We were provided with drinks during the flight, a meal soon after take-off, and ice-cream just before we landed. All in all, it was a long 7 and a half hours though.

When we arrived in Dubai at 12:05am (Dubai time, but 10:30 Madrid time) is was still 25 degrees outside, but it wasn’t raining. Tomorrow is expected to reach over 40 before lunchtime. We headed to the lifts which took us downstairs, and then we meandered our way to the shuttle service which takes us to the Luggage Reclaim area.

We had to go through Immigration before we could collect our baggage, and did so without any problems. It is still a very male-dominated society, but we are beginning to see females in some of the roles.

Then we headed to the Baggage Reclaim area and waited, as per usual. We finally grabbed our bags off the carousel and headed to the Exit and Arabian Adventures for our car transfer to the Four Points Sheraton Hotel where we are already booked. It was a ten-minute wait for our driver to arrive, and then we handled our baggage out across the roadway and on to where the car was waiting for us.

It was a fifteen-minute drive through fairly quiet traffic to the hotel. The skyline of Dubai at night is very pretty. It has a very active night life, but you only see males in public, probably very different in the real tourist areas.

We finally made it to our room (upgraded to a junior suite by Ahmed who said he apologised for the amount of time we had to wait for Reception service as there were two people in front of us when we got there) and we thanked him very much. Oh, the pain………. There is a washing machine and dryer in our junior suite of rooms. I’m far too tired to take advantage of it.

We finally fell into bed at 1:30am and did not bother to put on our alarm. And considering we did bugger all for most of the day it is a very long entry in the blog.

Day 31, Thursday 12 May 2016 – Madrid

May 12 - Madrid

This morning we had some excitement at breakfast time. As you know Tania has been warning us about pickpockets all along the tour, and encouraged all the ladies to leave their bags in their rooms while they used the breakfast facilities.

This morning we were eating our usual (Russ with fruit) and we heard a loud yell. We looked up to see a lady snatch her handbag from a man who then fled the hotel with two waiters taking off after him. They caught him and bought him back to the hotel, and everyone leaving the restaurant shook their hand and said ‘well done’ as they left.

It appears from later reports that the man had been loitering in the restaurant with everyone else lined up to wait to get to the buffet. Charles said he had kept an eye on him as he looked shifty. He looked to be in his early to mid-forties, very stocky build, well dressed with a cloth cap on his head.

The lady had left her table, which was right at the door of the restaurant, and was about to get something to eat when she saw him snatch the bag and grabbed it and screamed. She wasn’t hurt, and the man had to be let go with a warning from the hotel as he had not been successful.

In other hotels we had to give our room numbers and names before we were allowed entry for meals, but that does not happen here, and it is a much larger hotel than in some of the other places, so not so easy to manage.

When Russ and I picked our optional extra excursions we had concentrated on morning ones so that Russ could get back to the hotel in plenty of time for his meditation. The excursion this morning was supposed to go to Seragova, a UNESCO heritage site, according to the schedule we had received. However, it appears that we have again paid our money for nothing as we are all going for the local guided tour around Madrid, and a visit to the Prado Museum before the excursion starts off.

Seragova is an hour’s drive outside of Madrid, then there would be time for lunch before the guided tour of the site, and then free time, and then an hour’s drive back to Madrid with an expected time of arrival of 6:00pm. The coach does not leave from the Prado Museum until almost 12 noon (just getting in the morning time slot).

I told Russ that it would be too long a day considering that he will be quite iffey about tomorrow’s flight to Dubai as it is, and that it was not in his best interests to continue on with this one. So, we advised Tania we would not be continuing and that we would get ourselves back to the hotel. She was quite concerned about us getting about alone, but we convinced her that we would have no trouble, as so it proved.

Meanwhile, they all had their guided tour of the Spanish artists only, with a Rembrandt and some other works passed along the way. I was in no mood to visit a museum – certainly not for that short a period of time with someone nattering away in my ear about stuff I have no wish to know, so I bought a cup of hot chocolate in the café and read my book in peace and quiet for an hour. Then I rejoined Russ and we set off for the hotel. Russ said it really was interesting, but that the time allowed is far too short to do it justice.

Anyway, we did have a lovely stroll, using Here Drive to find out way, and it just so happened that our way went through one of the main parks in Madrid. It used to be part of the Royal Family hunting grounds in the past and was a forest, but today we have manicured hedges, beautiful old trees of all kinds, and terraced pathways. In other words, Russ and I were in our element. I hope the photos do it justice.

As I explained previously, there are not a lot of flower beds in Madrid because of the weather. They do make the very best of what they have though. We sat on a bench and ate our lunch, had our thermos flask drinks, and just drank in the sheer beauty of the day. The sun was shining intermittently, but the wind was a bit brisk at times.

There were a couple of council workers weeding some of the beds as we wandered, and I took the opportunity of letting them know how much I appreciated the work they did. The man I spoke with, his eyes lit up and he smiled and kept saying ‘thank you, are welcome’ as though not many people say anything to the workers.

We came to a very large statue area with a lake and the row boats out on its surface, and we would never have seen it if we had stayed with the coach. We also grabbed our last gelato before we have to leave Europe, and clicked our way among the scenery.

We did not have a very long walk once we came to the end of the park area, and it wasn’t too long before we were safely back at the hotel.

Tonight is our Farewell dinner and we need to be down in the lobby at 7:00pm – not much time for those who have been on the coach all day. I hope young Russell is okay as Kristy said you can now hear him breathing (rasping) and they will need to see a doctor for antibiotics. I hope he does not have pneumonia or pleurisy. I can’t think of anything worse when you are so far from home and still have to travel back to Australia.

Day 30, Wednesday 11 May 2016 – Cordoba to Madrid via Toledo

May 11 - Cordoba to Madrid

We had breakfast as per usual, Russ sticking with his fruit today, and then returned to our room to pick up our baggage and board the coach.

By now, one day is running into another and we are looking forward to arriving home.

We got away on time and travelled through rolling hills and plains, passing grape vines, olive trees and fields of saffron. The sun was shining but it was a very nippy 10 degrees so we were glad to be in the coach at the start.

I had a few words to say to Louie who is one of the people who has the same seat day in and day out. He apparently suffers from some travel sickness but that would usually indicate he should be sitting in the front and not four rows back. Anyway, we deal with things as they occur and we agreed to disagree on the subject of tour company policy. Louie says he follows his own policy (and you know that would get up my nose in a big way).

We had a brief, and nippy, stop at a very large cafeteria along the highway. We were not the only coach to stop so there was quite a crowd. Russ and I used the restrooms then took our thermos flasks outside and had a bit of a stroll around, along with some of the chocolate we bought at the olive farm. I hope they never give up their olive farm ‘cause I have tasted cooking chocolate as good as this, and the nuts that were supposed to be through the chocolate were a minor sprinkle along the top of the bar. I can’t believe I paid 4 euros a bar (think $7.00 Australian) and it wasn’t a big bar either.

We continued on our way, passing old castles and wind mills (which are still operational when needed) as we are passing through Don Quixote country. We also smelled a very strong odour and could see the plumes of what looked like smoke rising into the air. Tania explained that it came from the crushing of the olives when they make olive oil. It wasn’t unpleasant, just very pungent.

Finally, we arrived in the early afternoon at Toledo, and stopped at the factory which produces damascene products. Damascening is the art of inlaying different metals into one another-typically, gold or silver into a darkly oxidized steel background-to produce intricate patterns similar to niello. The English term comes from a perceived resemblance to the rich tapestry patterns of damask silk.

The Damascene art was known for centuries in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabia and in Japan. Around the XV century the art work became popular in Europe, and Toledo became the European capital of the damascene industry. Toledo is also famous by production of Toledo swords made of the legendary Toledo steel.

The manufacture of swords in the city of Toledo goes back to Roman times, but it was under Moorish rule and during the Reconquista that Toledo and its guild of sword-makers played a key role.

Between the 15th and 17th centuries the Toledo sword-making industry enjoyed a great boom, to the point where its products came to be regarded as the best in Europe. Swords and daggers were made by individual craftsmen, although the sword-makers guild oversaw their quality.

In the late 17th and early 18th century production began to decline, prompting the creation of the Royal Arms Factory in 1761 by order of King Carlos III. The Royal Factory brought together all the sword-makers guilds of the city and it was located in the former mint. The Royal Factory’s importance was such that it eventually developed into a city within the city of Toledo.’

We all seemed to have enjoyed the shopping at the present factory, and then we boarded our coach to go to the escalators, which take you up the cliff to the old quarter.

The walled medieval city of Toledo was a regional government centre and an important tourist destination with limited parking and poor access for all those people. The narrow cobbled streets are simply not big enough to accommodate all the pedestrians and vehicles necessary to support the urban centre, not to mention how the vibrations and pollution damaged the ancient buildings.

The innovative solution in 2001 was to have a series of escalators and covered walkways from an underground garage into and through the ancient walls. Instead of one very long escalator a total of 6 differently angled ones, protected from the elements and taking advantage of the views, was planned and executed. It is a wonder to behold, and of great benefit to all the tourists who wish to visit the old quarter.

We were let loose to find ourselves a bite to eat, and as we were not expected to reach Madrid until very late in the afternoon, and no meal was provided for us this evening, Russ and I scouted out a place and enjoyed a bowl of paella and another of chicken stew with fresh bread and a diet coke. We could have had sweets as part of the deal but we would have run out of time and been late back to the square where we were to meet the local guide.

It was an interesting walk, and Yolanda walked at a leisurely pace so we all had a chance to really look at what was around us, and the slower walkers had a chance of keeping pace without losing the main bunch.

The scenery from atop the old quarter is simply stunning, and we took full advantage of being able to photograph it while we wandered in an orderly fashion. We visited a chapel (well, actually the entrance area) where there is a painting by El Greco, but unfortunately, photography is forbidden, and we didn’t tour the church proper because whispers (our audio units) are banned.

Next we went down the winding passage (lovely flowers growing on the balconies) and visited an old Jewish synagogue – no longer used. I took the opportunity of sitting down while they all went inside, and was ready to continue when they came out again. I am not sure that Tania likes anyone doing their own thing. Part of it, I believe, is her sense of responsibility to the tour group, but another part is where she seems to believe that we can all live and breathe Spanish history to the exclusion of everything else.

I would personally love some time to myself in some of the gardens. The people from this area talk about nine months of winter and three months of hell because it gets so very hot during the height of summer, so there are not so many flower gardens as we are used to seeing. Instead, there are more formal designs with plenty of small hedges, interspersed with water features. It is very different to gardens we see back home, and as such, is even more interesting.

I have spoken about a feature in my garden based on the Arabic ideas, with a bit of Spain and Italy thrown in and the master’s voice has replied – ‘you draw it – I will make it. It may take more than one version to get it right.’ I can’t wait – and I even have the first spot picked out.

We made it down from the heights to the five arch bridge across the major river which surrounds Toledo on three sides. The Tagus river is on the Iberian Peninsula, and is 1,038 km long, 716 km of it flows in Spain, 47 km along the border between Portugal and Spain and 275 km flows in Portugal, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon.

It drains an area of 80,100 square kilometres and is highly utilized for most of its course. Several dams and diversions supply drinking water to most of central Spain, including Madrid, and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create power. Between dams it follows a very constricted course, but after Almourol it enters a vast alluvial valley prone to flooding. At its mouth is a large estuary on which the port city of Lisbon is situated.

All its major tributaries enter the Tagus from the right (north) bank.

We also passed a line of people who were waiting to zip line it across the river. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to wait so I didn’t get to do it. It looked like a wild ride and I would have loved to do it.

We climbed back aboard the coach, dropped Yolanda off along the way, and then continued for another hour’s drive to Madrid. We arrived at the same hotel we had stayed in for the first night of the tour, and another Trafalgar group, who are doing the Spain, Portugal and Morocco tour, had arrived just before us so there were people and baggage everywhere.

We received our assigned room key and headed for the lifts – which are very tiny and only take three or four people with luggage that is small – and waited for our turn. The bigger gabs will be delivered to our rooms later. The bell hops will certainly earn their keep today.

Once we got to our room Russ collapsed on the bed and fell asleep very quickly. I woke him up once the bags arrived and I had been able to make him a cup of tea, and he ate some granita bars (they are really tasty) for tea and proceeded to sleep for thirteen hours.

I managed to download the cameras, check batteries, take out the toiletries and put them in the bathroom, and then I went to bed around 8:30pm myself. This room actually has a spare blanket so I should be okay, and Russ will be cool enough to sleep properly.

Wake up call is 7:00am tomorrow and we head off for our local tour of Madrid at 8:00am.

Day 29, Tuesday 10 May 2016 – Seville to Cordoba

May 10 - Seville to Cordoba

More rain again this morning from the looks of the sky, and the weather forecast appears to agree. Russ surprised the dickens out of me today by choosing a plate of fruit for breakfast, and finishing with some yoghurt. He said he was getting sick of scrambled eggs. For me, it was the same as yesterday – cereal with hot milk.

We collected our gear in plenty of time and headed for the pick-up point, only to see the coach arrive just as we walked there. It was supposed to have been there by 8:00am so they could load the bags. We haven’t got the scoop on that one so I am not sure exactly what transpired. However, from observation I can say it was a mad scramble for the bell hops to load the baggage, and the occupants were well seated before they were finished.

It was decided that as the rain was holding off, and the square was opened (unlike yesterday due to the rain) we would detour to see the Spanish Square. Kath and I decided to spare our backs and legs the exercise and stayed on board with Fausto (call me George) as he drove the coach around the area before we returned to pick everyone else up. From the photos that Russ took it looked lovely, but almost as soon as the coach left them behind it started to rain, so neither Kath nor I am sorry we stayed.

We headed out of Seville in peak hour traffic and, as it was raining, we had plenty of donkey drivers to keep us company and to keep George on his toes, so to speak.

While we travelled Tania explained about some of the things we would see with the local guide, Hama by name (if I got that right), and we soon arrived at Cordoba. Australian always seem to put the emphasis on the wrong syllables of these words. We say Cord-o-ba, and the Spanish pronounce it Cor-do-ba.

Today we are visiting another ABC – but with a difference. This one is called the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, and I have taken the liberty of using the description as supplied by the website below (as I am never, in a million years, going to be able to remember all Hama told us.

Excerpt from the website

“The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is the most important monument of all the Western Islamic world, and one of the most amazing in the world. The evolution of the “Omeya” style in Spain is resumed in the history of the Mosque of Cordoba, as well as other styles such as the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque of the Christian architecture.

It seems as if the place that the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba occupies nowadays was dedicated, from ancient times, to the cult of different divinities. In this same place, and during the Visigoth occupation, another building was constructed, the “San Vicente” Basilic. On top of this basilic and after paying half of the site, the primitive Mosque was constructed. This basilic, of rectangular shape, was shared for a period of time between Moslems and Christians. After the Muslim enlargement, the Basilic became property of Abderraman I, who destroyed it to construct the first “Mosque Alhama” or main Mosque of the city. Nowadays, some of the constructive elements of the Visigoth building are integrated in the first part of Abderraman I.

The Great Mosque has two different areas: the courtyard or “arcade sahn“, where the “alminar” (minaret) is constructed (beneath the Renaissance tower) by Abd al-Rahman III, and the “haram” or praying hall. The interior space consists of a forest of columns and red and white arches giving a strong chromatic effect. The site is divided into 5 different areas, corresponding each one of them to the different expansions that have occurred on it. “

It was an interesting experience.

After the tour of the mosque we took a walk among the old Jewish Quarter of the city before being left to our own devices for lunch and some shopping. Needless to say, just as it was almost time to hike back to the pick-up point, the heavens opened. I am talking about thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour. On the up side of things, I got to take a photo of the gargoyles doing their job as water spouts, which was very impressive.

Thoroughly drenched as some were it didn’t take us too much time to journey from the city centre to our hotel, The Ayr Cordoba, which was a monastery in former times. It is located in the upper region of the city and surrounded by well-tended lawns and gardens.

Once everyone had made it off the coach and been given their room keys the group scattered to get dry and warm before we are due to meet again at 7:30pm downstairs for our buffet tea.

Russ did his meditation while I downloaded photos, uploaded photos, named photos, and uploaded the past few days of the blog while we have good wi fi access. I also spent time catching up to the present with the blog so that Russ can upload with the day maps before we go to bed.

We were a very noisy bunch at dinner, and we sat with Linda and Larry, Kath and Rex, and Kristy and young Russ – the latter still trying valiantly to come to terms with a rotten cold as they have a few more days in Barcelona after the tour ends. They are travelling by fast train from Madrid to Barcelona before continuing back to Australia.

Dinner was a selection of salads, soups, and vegetables followed by fish, pork or chicken (or all of the above) and finishing with a selection of cakes for dessert along with a few custard Maries and Rice creams for variety.

Tomorrow the wake-up call is for 6:30am, bags out at 7:00am and we head off to Madrid – a very long days’ travel with lunch at Toledo – at 8:00am. The trip is almost over and both Russ and I are looking forward to visits to chiropractor, acupuncturist and hairdresser in that order (although the pink is much appreciated and travelling well).

Day 28, Monday 9 May 2016 – Seville

May 9 - Seville Walking

Well, the weather is no longer kind to us, and is not expected to get any better in the next few days.

Went down to breakfast through the tunnel system, which is simply fantastic, wonderful, marvellous and just plain ingenious. As you can understand from that I really like this hotel. Even the walls in the three parts of the restaurant (housed in the old cellar area of the houses) have been done in different styles. Where Russ and I sat to eat we had branches of trees along sections of the wall, and little birds popped up in the most unexpected places.

Most of our crew have not realised that the tunnels exist and got wet trying to find their way to the breakfast area upstairs through the passageways.

Breakfast was the same as usual, with the exception that they don’t have jugs of milk available for the breakfast cereal. After wandering lost in the wilderness for a while I decided that I would have to use the milk button on the coffee machines – which meant I had hot milk with my cereal. At least the cereal is not too bad.

After breakfast we returned to our room and geared up for our Optional Excursion to the Alcazar Palace, and then onto the local walk through the town with everyone. Not everyone has paid for the Optional this time, and some are thanking their lucky stars because of the weather.

We have to walk about ten minutes to get to where our coach is allowed to park. Luis will be with us today still. I think I have forgotten to mention that Trafalgar employs Portuguese drivers for their coaches because Spanish men are far too excitable and don’t deal well with idiots (donkey drivers they are called). Portuguese drivers, on the other hand, are general calm, considerate, very skilled drivers who handle chaos with considerable aplomb.

As today is an Optional Excursion the normal seating rotation is not supposed to apply, and you can generally sit where ever you want, first come – first served basis.

The first incident to put a damper on the day happened when we got to the pick-up point in the rain, and there was no coach! We had to wait in the shelter of the local bus shelter until it arrived – Luis is only allowed to linger in one place for a certain amount of time, and if the motor is running (whether or not he is driving) it counts as part of his driving hours.

The second incident happened when the coach finally arrived and Kath decided that she would like to sit behind the driver as no one had taken the seat and was promptly informed by Tania that the Korean ladies would be sitting there as that was their rotated turn. Kath removed herself to her allotted seat, but was not a happy camper. Kath is a straight talking Aussie.

So, we were sitting on the coach in our allotted seats waiting at 8:30am, which was the time we were due to start, and we were missing two people who had signed to do the Excursion. They were allegedly, still eating their breakfast.

The terms of the tour clearly state that if you are not where you should be within a reasonable time, then the coach will go without you. It just so happened that the two late ladies were the South Korean ones, and when Tania got back to the coach she informed Luis to go without them. (Tania herself was not coming on our part of the trip but would join us later for the town walk with all those not going with us). We had also picked up our local guide for the day, and I was not able to say or spell his name. He was very knowledgeable infinitum, and there is no possible way that anyone on a tour can remember even a fraction of the information he fed us the whole time. (Sarcasm? Yes!)

As we started off Russ invited Kath to come and sit in the front seat once more and her reply is the Quote of the Day – “Sorry, I’m not Korean.”

We arrived at the drop off point and followed our guide to the Moorish Alcazar Palace. Apparently when it rains in Spain (especially in places like Seville and Cordoba which are considered the frying pans of Spain where is only rains six days a year, and they are onto the seventh straight day of rain…..) the people do not handle it well. That includes car drivers, security forces and tour groups.

We got to the front of the Palace in due time, only to be told by our guide that we could not go any further until Tania walked the ten minutes from our hotel (it took us over 20 minutes to drive it)) and handed over the Audio Unit for him to use throughout the tour.

There was a small line up ahead of us when we arrived, and our guide took us to the side to wait, which is where the tour groups mass. However, while we are waiting it starts to rain rather heavily (no shelter as it only rains rarely in Seville – God help the poor bastards waiting in the hot sun during the summer without any shelter either) and the security force decides to put out the barrier tapes (and we were excluded from the barrier detail).

So, there we are standing in the pouring rain trying not to let the rain get to our cameras (some did not have adequate protection other than an umbrella) when Tania arrived with the Audio and you would have thought then we could go ahead.

Not so – the guide had to go and get our tickets! So we are still standing in the pouring rain and the gates to the Palace have still not opened for the visitors. And more and more people, and other tour groups, are arriving all the time we stand there.

The gates opened, and the security guard allows all the people inside the tape barriers to move into the Palace, and then all the others who arrived after us. There was a great deal of muttering from all of us, and I was feeling a bit sorry for the tour guide. One of our group speaks Spanish so Yadira (such a pretty name) who comes from Panama moved up to the guide and was then able to tell us that the problem was the security people, and out tour guide had already rang the head office of the Palace organisers and asked why we were left standing in the rain when we were a tour group who had reservations for the tour. He was promptly told that the organisers had no control over the group in charge of the security scanning of visitors and we would have to wear it.

Some of our group got so annoyed that they walked back to the hotel in the rain and put in a complaint to Tania, whose reply was that there was no control of the rain – it just did – which was not what the problem was in the first place.

Well, we finally got through the scanning process (Russ telling me that if he was denied entrance because of his pocket knife we would be going back to the hotel, and me telling him that the same applied if I was requested to remove my walking boots). Neither of these things happened and we were in.

The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. The palace is renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence and are administered by the Patrimonio Nacional. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies.

The Alcazar is an amazing place, and has been better preserved than the Alhambra Palace. The royal family were due to visit within the next three days. Apparently you can tell when they will be visiting because they light up the magnificent chandelier in the top room.

The guide knew all his stuff about the Palace but went into far too much detail for most of us who are more interested in the basic history. So we were left standing around on cobbled stones, and then marble floors, and then tiled floors, while he explained all these details. It is no surprise that most of us were crippled by the time we got back to the hotel about 1:30pm as we also walked through the town after the Palace. Lots of painkillers all round, even a bath or two to help relieve the aches and pains as we were heading out for a Be My Guest dinner at an olive farm later on the same day.

You can look at the photos to see how unique and well-kept the Alcazar is and, of course, it stopped raining while we were under cover inside, and began once again as we existed the complex to join Tania and the other of our group for the stroll (in the next downpour) through the old town.

Most decided to head back to the hotel in the coach, but a few hardy souls soldiered on, as they wanted to do some shopping and to visit the mushroom further out. Russ and I got back to the hotel and downloaded our gear and went across the road to one of the many restaurants next to the hotel, and this one came highly recommended by Rex and Kath. (It was also out of the cold.)

We had a look at the menu that was delivered to our table and both decided to get the mixed paella and two diet cokes. They reminded us that it would be a twenty-minute wait for the paella, and we were quite happy to sit and munch on the lovely fresh brad rolls that were delivered with our cokes. I swear I have eaten more bread in the last few weeks than I normally would in six months at home.

When the paella arrived it was well worth the wait and we enjoyed every mouthful. We then trudged back to the hotel across the street and I was able to take an Orudis for the pain in my back and leg. Russ promptly went to sleep and I downloaded the photos we had taken while I waited for the pain killer to kick in. We did not have very good wi fi access so I was unable to upload anything at all.

About an hour later I was feeling much more human, and I headed out, with my camera and phone (just in case I got lost and had to ask for help) to explore and investigate this wonderful hotel. I took lots of photos, went upstairs and down stairs, into and out of tunnels, accessed courtyards and explored the regions around them. In short, I had a wonderful time. I met up with Evelyn while I was about it and she actually had a map from Reception which showed her lots of the places. We endeavoured to make out way up to the rooftop pool (which she had been assured was open) but the lift was locked out at the second floor, and although we climbed the stairs the door at the top was locked.

Evelyn later told me that when we parted ways she went back to Reception and they told her the roof would be opened, and she neat the bellhop to the top before he actually unlocked it. In the meantime, I had wandered back into the tunnels to explore another section, and found a lovely courtyard with a water feature.

I even made it back to our room without getting lost, and by this time Russ was awake. I downloaded my photos and showed them to him, and then it was time to get ready for our dinner – Be My Guest.

May 9 - Seville Dinner

We all walked to the pick-up point in clear weather and boarded the coach once more. When Luis drops us off tonight he will welcome our relief driver for the next four days, and take the company hire car to Portugal to visit his family. He expects to arrive home around 3:00am in the morning.

The weather was a bit breezy but we arrived at the olive farm in good time and were warmly welcomed by the family. We were provided with a glass of sangria. Russ got the alcoholic version and I went for the non-alcoholic version, but I did taste the one he had, and it was so not for me. I did enjoy the non-alcoholic version made with grape juice though.

We were invited to look at some of the olive trees, and then went to the sampling room where we were encouraged to pick up a container (with a loose lid) of local olive oil, and warm it in the palms of our hands. Then we were asked to close our eyes and remove the lid to smell the warmed olive oil. I actually smelt grass and fruit.

We got to pat the family dog, and then the family (working) cat before heading back and being welcomed through the store (every place has one to relieve you of hard earned cash) and into the dining room. Russ and I sat with the family from Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and we had a very interesting exchange of information. I also learnt about their beliefs as Parsi people, followers of Zoroaster. (I hope I get all this right.) Dad is retired, Mum is a secretary, (more power to Admin people) and their daughter is a stock broker.

Zoroaster, also called Zarathustra, was an ancient Persian prophet who founded the first world religion – Zoroastrianism.

According to the ‘Zend Avesta’, the sacred book of Zoroastrianism, he was born in Azerbaijan, in northern Persia, probably in the seventh century BC, although some scholars put the time-frame for Zoroaster much earlier.

He is said to have received a vision from Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, who appointed him to preach the truth. Zoroaster began preaching his message of cosmic strife between Ahura Mazda, the God of Light, and Ahriman, the principle of evil. According to the prophet, man had been given the power to choose between good and evil. The end of the world would come when the forces of light would triumph and the saved souls rejoice in its victory.

This dualism was part of an evolution towards monotheism in the Middle East. Zoroaster’s teaching became the guiding light of Persian civilization.

After Alexander the Great conquered Persia Zoroastrianism began to die out in Persia (due in some part to persecution), but it survived in India where it became the basis of the Parsi religion.

The meal with the family was served with wine, or soft drink, and our Mumbai table sharers were vegetarian. It is ironic that I, an ardent meat eater, ended up sharing a table with vegetarians, although they explained that it was not always so, and mum and dad had followed their daughter to vegetarianism.

When we were finished our meal we all visited the store, and spent some money – hand crème smelling divinely of orange flower – and pistachio chocolate for us.

On the way back Tania advised that as not everyone had attended the touring today the seating arrangement for the coach would be as would have been allocated today (and where we sat anyway after the morning altercation). Tania is the only tour director I know who has reserved the front seat opposite the driver for herself. Normally this seat is considered almost as prime as the seat behind the driver and your turn to sit there is greatly anticipated.

We said goodbye to Luis as we decanted from the coach and continued walking to our hotel.

Tomorrow is bags out 8:00am and the coach is due to depart Seville at 9:00am as it is a short travel day as far as the coach is concerned.

Day 27, Sunday 8 May 2016 – Torremolinos to Seville via Gibraltar

May 8 - Torremolinos to Seville

Today it is Mother’s Day in Australia. We wished each other a Happy Mother’s Day at breakfast and when we had finished eating we went back to our room to collect our gear. We also rang Janelle (niece and god-daughter) as we knew that Mum Cox would be with her for Matthew (nephew and Janelle’s brother) and Loz’s engagement and housewarming party in Geelong (metropolitan Melbourne).

Mum was very happy to hear from us as we wished her all the best, and then she and Russ got a bit teary as it is the first really happy family event – the engagement party – since Dad died. Mum said she would shortly be driven to the station to catch her train back to Benalla (in central Victoria), so we bid her goodbye, collected our gear, and went down to the coach.

We are at the Costa del Sol, but today it is grey, very overcast, and raining. It is also apparently raining in Gibraltar (where the sun always shines) and also in sunny Seville so we are all prepared to be walking in the rain for most of the morning at least.

Although very wet, at least it is not cold, and the wind is not blowing like it was the day we arrived. It is also Sunday, and many of the shops do not open on Sundays. This also applies to Gibraltar so we are not quite sure what to expect when we get there.

There is still fierce competition between the Spanish and the English when it comes to Gibraltar. The island is autonomous, but Britain, in the form of the Ministry of Defence, still plays a major role for the local population. The island is home to two patrol craft for the navy, and would be able to quickly respond to any military situation that might arise. It also has one helicopter. It measures about 3 square kilometres.

It is strategically located between the continents of Europe and Africa, and on a clear day (which we didn’t get) you can easily see the shores of Morocco. It has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.

One of the sticking points, politically speaking, comes from the fact that Britain and Gibraltarians have reclaimed land from the sea over the years, which the Spanish claim is actually part of their domain. The airport lies on a section of reclaimed land, and the main road crosses the landing strip. It is amusing (but must be very frustrating for the locals) that when a plane is about to land or take off from the strip, the lights turn red and the traffic stops for however long is required. It does create a bit of a traffic snarl.

When we arrived at Gibraltar it was raining fairly moderately. Some had wet weather gear, some had umbrellas, some thought they had wet weather gear only to find out is was not waterproof, and some, like Russ, left their wet weather gear packed in their suitcases – very helpful.

Trafalgar (possibly other tour operators as well) no longer take their coaches across the border with their passengers as the border guards started getting all the cases unloaded and inspected before allowing the tour to continue. This created much anguish among the passengers, and lost heaps of time for the tour director who had other obligations to meet in other parts of Spain.

So now passengers are dropped off on the Spanish side. We had to have our passports in our hands as we approached the Spanish border, and again as we approached the British border. Most of us were waved straight through but the Spanish guard spent a bit of time checking out our two South Korean passengers, and the people from Mumbai in India.

The British also spent a bit of time checking the South Korean paperwork, waved us through as soon as we said Good Morning in broad Australian, but the Indian family had to fill out paperwork with Tania as their guide before they were allowed to enter Gibraltar. It was just a little bit time consuming, to say the least, and it continued that way for the rest of the day.

We walked through the customs area and went to the airport terminal to use the facilities, and were supposed to be met by two mini buses to take us on our guided tour of the peninsular. They were late because the trip they accepted before us was Japanese people who were running 30 minutes late.

Not all of us were going on the Optional Experience of the tour of the country, and we were supposed to be a group of 24 which would have fitted into one of the mini buses. As the weather was so foul some others had decided it would be easier to join us and have shelter from the elements for a period of time, instead of trying to find a place to park themselves until it was time to rejoin the coach. This meant our number rose to 31 people and would require two buses. The employees of said company were not amused.

Apparently the companies who run the mini buses regularly get greedy and take on more jobs than they can carry out within the time frames.

Anyway, the buses took us to the local drop off point and the group not continuing with the tour left in the rain with Tania so she could give them all the information required for them to navigate safely through the main part of town and still get back to the pick-up point later.

Our driver was Robert, who was very knowledgeable, and sounded like Prince Charles talking fast, along with his mumbles. He was actually quite amusing and knew his stuff. However, because of our late start he also hurried us through everything so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we were supposed to have to see all the sights.

The roads are narrow and he was a very good driver, thank heavens. We first went through a few tunnels and the old military barracks area to arrive at the lighthouse, the cannon, and the mosque – the most southern location of a mosque in Europe.

We took the requisite photos, and Robert grabbed a coffee, and the rain continued to fall. Our next stop was further up the rock at St Michael’s caves. It also had the requisite souvenir shop, but due to the hurry up we got most who visited the caves didn’t get a chance to even look inside it.

The caves themselves are very interesting with lots of chambers filled with both stalagmites and stalactites which have been cleverly lighted to display them better. It is a lovely show to watch, and then the lights pause so you get a chance to take a shot in natural lighting mode. We probably should have spent quite a bit more time there, and we would have enjoyed it – even more so because we were out of the rain.

On the way back up the road to board our minibus we got to see two of the monkeys. Robert said they usually only grab plastic bags when you come out of the souvenir shop because they think it is food. Needless to say I didn’t have any plastic bags and they seemed quite happy to sit and stare at us, and to let us take our photos. There is no mention of the monkeys during Spanish rule of Gibraltar, and history only mentions them once the English were ruling the country, which seems to indicate that they were brought in from Morocco where they are native.

Robert explained that there is an old fable which states that when the monkeys leave Gibraltar the British will leave the place. He further added that some were superstitious during the second world war, and there were only three monkeys on the island.

The British ordered someone to go to their home place in the mountains of Morocco and get some more, and to look after them, which happened. The locals now feed them on top of the rock twice daily (it is illegal for tourists to feed them) and so, they do not venture down into town. There are about 200 of them now.

Once we left the top Robert took us to another place where the monkeys like to be as some on the bus missed the photo opportunity at the caves. There was a car sitting on the side of the road and a monkey was calmly seated on top of the roof. There were two others in a tree – a baby was one of them. They all seem more than happy to pose for the cameras.

From this vantage point we were able to watch the gondola going up the rock. It takes six minutes to climb from the reclaimed flat land up to the summit of the rock where the minibuses are not allowed to go. We could also see the reclaimed land used for the airport from here as the rain was not falling so heavily.

Back on the bus and we headed back to town. Robert dropped us off and said we were to be back for pickup at 1:30pm. It was still raining and all most of us wanted to do was get out of the elements and find a place to have lunch and a cuppa.

We found a little Irish Pub which had a great menu out the front and was open. Rex and Kathy were with us. It was only once we were seated and had ordered our drinks that the lady told us she didn’t serve meals on Sundays. Bugger! And Russ had ordered a beer!

Needless to say she made us very welcoming and let us hang our dripping jackets on the back of some chairs while we had our drinks. We were also able to use the restrooms before we had to uproot ourselves away from the cosy place and find somewhere to eat.

Apparently the other driver, Tony, had recommended Roy’s place for the best fish and chips so we went across the town square in the drizzle, and promptly ordered hamburgers and chips, although Russ did order the fish and chips. The helpings were quite large, and they tasted great. Once we paid our bill we headed to the pickup point.

Tania was quite upset when we got there as they had only sent one minibus for all of us (they had accepted another job in the meantime and were running late). I believe she had a few choice words to say to them while we were waiting.

We finally got the last minibus and boarded for our ride back to the airport. By this time, we were running quite late as Luis had expected all of us back on board at 1:45pm, and we were well past that designated time.

It was a fair hike from the drop off point to the customs centre but we finally made it with very little attention from either the British or Spanish customs officers. When we got outside we were re-joined by the rest of our motley crew who had been left waiting for our arrival before anyone could head for the coach. That was another bit of a hike, and when we arrived at the place the coach was parked there was no Luis. At least it had stopped raining and we only had a few spits of rain to deal with.

Tania explained that the mobile coverage in the spot was quite sporadic, so she left us for a few minutes and went to beg the use of a landline. Luis arrived shortly after that and the coach was opened. Poor Tania was looking quite fraught and tired by this point.

Tania explained that we would be another hour and a half before we reached Seville so informed us of our times for tomorrow morning. We will be doing the Optional Excursion to the Royal Palace first thing, and then those who are not doing this trip will join us later and we will walk around with our local guide. So, we get a bit of a sleep in and don’t have to be ready to leave on the coach until 8:30am. Tomorrow afternoon will be at our own leisure.

However, after the next day we lose Luis for the rest of the trip. We will still be using the same coach, but we will have a new driver for the last road trip to Madrid, and our exploration of the city on the following day. Our journey is almost complete and we will soon be home.

We are staying the next two nights in Seville at the La Casas de la Juderia. It is located in a neighbourhood of Seville which has managed to preserve the true aesthetic of the Spanish Golden Century, largely due to conservation work by the Duke of Segorbe over the last 30 years.

During that time, he has added noble and popular houses to the core of the hotel with a focus in standardizing the comfort of each of the 134 rooms, and in accordance with the original objective of maintaining and restoring the vast architectural legacy of the city.

The hotel flows through 40 patios, through gardens, through terraces and tunnels and courtyards, each one unique in and of itself. You are actually invited to explore the place at your leisure, to find the roman decorated tunnels, the swimming pool on the rooftop with views of the Giralda, and we breakfast in the ancient cooler rooms which the old inhabitants of these houses (joined together to make the hotel) used to conserve their perishable goods.

I look forward to taking lots of photos over the next day or two.

Day 26, Saturday 7 May 2016 – Torremolinos

We were rudely awakened at 7:30am with a wakeup call. It was unpleasant as we did not have to get up for anything, so we dozed until 9:00am before getting a morning cuppa. The breakfast room is open until 11:00am and there is no hurry.

My neck and back will be so happy to see Nathan when we get back home. My back has started to clench and it was difficult for me this morning. Russ tweaked his knee yesterday and it appears to be a little better this morning. He is very conscious of it.

We finally sauntered down to breakfast about 9:30am and it was still packed. It is a large hotel and used by many tourist groups, as well as regular customers from all over Europe. We bumped into Bernard and Aline, and Russ and Bernard spent a few minutes chatting while waiting for their freshly cooked omelettes.

When Russ got to our table with his food he said that one of our group couples had had to be moved from their designated room when they were flooded from the floor above. He did not know who had been affected but thought it was one of the Aussie couples.

I, on the other hand, was severely disappointed. I had the choice of corn flakes (if they had refilled the empty container) or coco pops – neither of which items I was remotely interested in eating. While Russ enthused over his omelette I munched my way through a Spanish version of corn bread and a cold, dried apple pastry. The service from the waiters, on the other hand, was excellent. They whisked dishes away from the table as soon as you had finished with it, and the hot water and coffee were still very hot so I had a small cup.

After we had finished eating we returned to our room, and I washed out Russell’s short in case he needs them later on, and then we went for a leisurely stroll up the street. The hotel is built on the beachfront area and the back is a solid rock wall. It does have a lift (50 euro cents per person) to take you up the cliff face so we made use of it for ourselves. We encountered Jack and Carolyn along the way but parted company when we got to the street.

We had a wonderful time just strolling along and window shopping. Russ pulled up a map of the area on Here Maps so we could see where we wanted to go. After a false start we finally found ourselves among people. The residential section of the place had only one or two people in view, but plenty of cars parked at the curb.

I succumbed to the buying bug and shelled out for a few more souvenirs, and convinced Russ to buy a new case for the camera equipment (as the one we are using is also past its prime and use-by date, and is cumbersome to wear for a long time).

We ordered lunch to go from the menu show book (which is how they cope with foreigners who can’t speak Spanish) and were surprised that our option was hot. They were wrapped in foil packets so I put them into my backpack and we started our way back to the hotel.

There was a beautiful statue made from marble of a white bull and a young girl holding a tiara of stars upon his back, which is supposed to represent Zeus and his abduction of Europa to Crete. The constellation of Taurus is in theory how he was to be remembered by humans.

We met up with Rex and Kath at the statue as they were taking their photos, and neither had heard about the flooding incident so we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out any more information.

When we got back to our room we ate our lovely rolls of fresh ham and cheese. They were delicious. I have spent time pounding away at the keys of the computer with both the blog and photos while Russ has done his meditation.

We will wander over to the Pizza place later in the evening after Russ has done some geo-caching and have some tea.

Tomorrow we have to have our bags out by 7:00am and we will leave for Gibraltar, and then on to Seville for the next two nights. It has been great having a two-day breather with no obligations to do anything but what we want, when we want to do so.