If you haven't decided on a holiday for 2016 yet and live on a budget, this might just be what you were looking for.
From Valencia to Madrid via Gibraltar, Africa and Portugal.
It's the kind of trip where you leave your day to day life, planning and scheduling at home. There is no time to make appointments, no time to meet a deadline. Only time to live each day as it comes.
Home from home - the sunny south.
It's just like any Irish city really - music. Or maybe not exactly.
Starting in Valencia you will find them. Musicians. But not those with hats, open guitar cases or other boxes in front of them. You find musicians that simply enjoy to strum their tunes in the summer sun - just for pleasure, or well at least some.
Here's the deal. Don't plan ahead. Don't book ahead and don't look ahead.
I make two promises:
- you will experience the unexpected
- you will miss out
It's the price you will have to pay if you're up for a little adventure and for surprises - good and bad.
Having said that... here is my take on Spain, cities to visit and those to - not. Some to spend days in and some to enjoy passing by. And one or two "lost in translation" that you want to avoid.
The only bookings you will need to make:
- book your return flight (arrive in a place and depart from another)
- book a first hotel / hostel / B&B
- book a car for about 2 weeks
A busy city. If you chose Valencia for your first stop you will get a great exercise for driving in Spanish traffic (and ... on the other side of the busy road), which will be very helpful for the rest of your trip.
Mind less busy backroads and roads with no signage as they might tempt you to change back to the right side of the road, left.
Valencia seems extremely busy at first. But as soon as you checked in (I'm a friend of hostels), went for a little stroll and settled into a street cafe, you will quickly ease into the Spanish "savour vivre" - or: "modo de vivir" :)
There are plenty of photography opportunities from flowers to buildings ... it's been a while since I went and I feel it's time to go back to see the city from a different view.
We continue from the busy city life as I craved some quiet. Having rented a car I quickly felt extremely free and independent. The - partly - planned trip lead me along the Costa del sol. Realising it's not quite my cup of Sangria, I moved on back into the heartland of Granada.
...first impressions. Granada from the outside looked slightly industrial, so I decided to go off the track yet again and landed in a lovely hostel near the Alhambra.
If you are into photography - make sure to bring extra time.
When travelling with no or little planning, I promise myself to go back to places that I loved or couldn't enter. I queued for ...ages. When at the counter the señorita asked me if I wanted a ticket for the gardens only - which I could access immediately, or if I wanted a ticket for the palace which will be open for another tour in 4h.
As a good aul impatient German would, I refused the ticket for the palace. And what a mistake. The gardens around the palace are so breathtakingly beautiful that I spent a phenomenal 4h taking snaps of the old built, colourful blossoms and random visitors.
You win some you lose some - I'll have to come back!
While I queued to get tickets for the pretty copious gardens and refuse those for the palace, I asked a Canadian family for recommendations on where to go next. The apes.
Another day, another country. Off you pop (apologies, I love this expression) to the hill of the apes in Gibraltar.
They are rather close if you like or not and just as bold. If you start feeding them - your bad. They take what they get.
Some jump on peoples heads, hug legs - not for attention but to distract you, while others steal your food, camera, anything really.
But who could take offence of these cute little "buggers"!
While trying to find a way back by foot - you go up by cable car if you want to save some energy - try to stay on the road. I managed to find a dead end and as the sun was burning on my head I had to climb over a fence and crawl through the bushes. Ending up on a construction site, I put my most natural smile on as if there was nothing to see, said "hola" to the lads and made my way back to the civilisation as quick as possible.
Fabulous - and quirky plants in most incredible colours.
no, not Tenerife. Tarifa.
I love to set my on records. Tarifa, the southernmost European point in the province of Cádiz. Pretty, bright, and friendly - but, be aware that friendliness might sometimes be found in the second best option.
"I was young and needed a place to sleep".
Surely it's been my mistake. I arrived late at night as I really didn't have a plan (that's where "bad" things happen). The first place I popped into was a rather pretty, typical Spanish B&B. Artistic walls, red tiles, plants where you look.
Though out of season the owner (German too) offered me a room that he usually wouldn't rent out. Happy enough with what I saw - I didn't really see anything as my only thought was: FOOD - I agreed to the price ($$$) and left for dinner. Enjoying a glass of wine or two, I headed back to the B&B to find some sleep. Realising the whole room was full of mould. Disappointed of being ripped off - but lucky enough as this was the first and only time of my trip, I left early in the morning and found a fantastic B&B just a couple of metres ahead.
Tarifa is extremely windy for the Spanish coast line. It is due to it's positioning. It's extremely close to Africa too. A surfer paradise in season they say - I visited outside the season.
So off I went on a ferry from Tarifa to Tangiers for half a day. You leave your car behind and travel by yourself or with a guided group.
What you can expect is a huge commercial market, typical moroccan architecture, business people, and yummy fresh fruits and vegetables.
It's not exactly a holiday destination - but it's also only the harbour market you get to visit. If you want to go further into the heartland you would book a full day or overnight stay (not sure about visas coming from Gibraltar etc.).
If you are looking to get typical moroccan jewellery, a rug or carpet, etc. you're just right.
And don't forget - even though you might not be into buying anything, you might want to use a half day trip with the ferry for two reasons:
- adventure (...I love to be on a boat and experience new countries)
- plenty of photography opportunities (while you would need to respect not to take photos of locals - only after asking and in most cases they'd expect a small contribution. Fair enough I think - I don't like to be "shot" for someones online portfolio - and as a photographer, I respect that some people are ok with a snap and some are not.)
Windows down, music loud and stop where ever you want! Blue skies, a warm breeze your favourite song - that's life worth living! Some of my most enjoyable moment - also cause you can sing as loud as you want - it's YOUR road trip ;)
You'll always find some cyclists, so mind them on the road. Lovely coffee places in and outside the season.
Though don't forget la siesta. At first I wasn't quiet so sure about closed shops, restaurants and bars, but after a little while you do get used to shops being closed during the hot afternoons. I actually used the time for a nap - it was harder to retrain into the office life when I came back.
Off to Faro.
It's a bit of a jump as I did stop in Sevilla just to relax. I didn't take a single photo. Not due to of lack of opportunity. Just the opposite. Sevilla is my absolute favourite city in Spain. Plenty of Spanish tapas, music, flamenco, lovely people, trendy bars and cafes - do go and if you can stay at least 2 - 3 nights.
It's funny really. While in Spain I did run into the one or other "lost in translation" situation. e.g. Don't ever try to explain being "desperate for a beer" using the tv program "desperate housewife". Chances are the Spanish might understand "you are desperate housewives"... let's just say it was a short night for me.
...being in Portugal "they" say don't try and speak Spanish "they" don't appreciate it. Very much the opposite yet again. Portuguese (bit of cliché) are very friendly and do appreciate the effort of speaking a bit of Spanish.
Maybe start with a friendly "Obrigada" when female and "Obrigado" when male to say "Thank you" :)
A very pretty landscape - it seems endless, nearly like the end of the world - well at least the continent.
A bit of a shock then when you get back to civilisation. Or well, Lisbon.
I call it little San Francisco. Because of its hilly streets. It's a pretty and colourful rather arty city. Not to big and not too small. A lovely choice of restaurants - and don't mind the lads trying to sell little bags of tobacco. It can be a little busy during the summer months.
Fabulous views too!
We should have spent more time in Lisbon. It wasn't planned. I met some new friends in Sevilla and we decided to share petrol costs and headed all the way to Portugal to see Faro & Lisbon.
I always prefer a quieter place when going back home but the best option to fly back for price and car rental at the time was Madrid. I actually - despite preferring the nature, village and countryside, I absolutely fell in love with Madrid.
I can't quite say why. It's just a vibrant city with many street lights. Restaurants, things to see and do. A huge park in the centre and everything (though I doubt it is) seems walking distance.
Madrid seems to be a mix of a fast paced city and a relaxed Spanish way of life.
It's modern and rustic, antique and new it's welcoming and insurgent.
Countries: Spain, Gibraltar, Africa, Portugal
Map: click here for Google Maps (whole trip ;))
Car rental: from 15EUR a day - about 250 EUR for 2 weeks (including insurance - try rental car. They have a pretty decent customer service too)
Flight to Valencia: from 39EUR dreams (depending on season - check ryan air or sky scanner too.)
Average B&B / hostel price: 25EUR per night. - about 375EUR for 2 weeks (try Airbnb)
Drink and food really low budget when sharing in a hostel. We cooked together which is fab for learning new recipes . Most bars still offer free tapas ;) and a pint is half the price compared to Ireland.
Don't forget petrol - get a Diesel if you can.
Enjoy your holiday :)