Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: March 2015

A diversion

This post does not record details of a recent holiday day.  Whilst we were in Nerja I challenged my wife to see if she could work out which year we went on holiday and where.  Neither of us were particularly good at this, but I did end up with a list of the places we have visited over the last few years and it is largely in time order.  If I ever find the energy I will come back and try to add dates and sequence it properly.

So this is rough and ready and probably not comprehensive!

South Devon
Antigua & St Lucia
Wales X 2
North Devon
Paris & Loire Valley
Dominican Republic
Amalfi Coast
Tenerife x 4
Legoland Denmark
Lanzarote × 2
Grand Canaria
Los Angeles, San Francisco & Las Vegas
QM2 & New York
Cornwall Rock
Cornwall Watergate Bay
Marrakech x 2
Bath x 3
Stratford on Avon × 2
London × 3
Calais area x 2/3
Norfolk x  2
Sri Lanka & the Maldives
Disneyland Paris x 6?
South Africa
Edinburgh / Oban
Cruise on QE
West Sussex Pagham
Lyme Regis
Scilly Isles
Bournemouth Xmas
Isle of Wight
Elounda Crete
Nice by train
India Rajasthan

This list predates this blog in general and so holidays which are blogged are not included above.  So we have covered some ground with more to come I hope.

Caves of Nerja, Burriana Beach and Last Dinner

Friday 13 March 2015 & Saturday 14 March 2015

We have until today enjoyed warm sunshine but the sky is overcast today and there is a strong wind blowing.  Luckily we have planned to spend the morning visiting the famous Caves of Nerja which were discovered in 1959 by some local teenagers.  Today there is a rather more formal entrance and descent using stairs and a tour around a small number of caves.  There are a further number which are not publically accessible where research and study is undertaken.

The caves contain many fantastic examples of stalactites and stalagmites many formed into columns which have taken millenina to come together.  Indeed in the fifty years since discovery the shape and extent of them has probably hardly changed to the visible eye.

The accompanying audio tour gives a good explanation of the discovery but also of the history.  The caves were occupied from about 40,000 years ago until about 4,000 years ago and are now known to contain some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.

I find the caves to be drier and warmer than I had expected, indeed on emerging I feel a greater need for a coat than I had experienced underground.

Getting good photos in the Caves is not easy – so the number here are limited.

And it is now colder although it would be even chillier at home.  So that puts paid to the sunbathing and getting browner and also kills off any idea of more sugar free ice cream!

So we head over to the other beach at Burriana – all good going and near the end there is a massive long downhill zig zag to sea level.  On the edge of the beach are numerous restaurants and all are doing some form of barbecue.  “Ayo” is recommended and is famous in that the owner is one of the five boys who nearly 60 years ago discovered the caves we visited earlier.  We take a look at the others but decide to eat in Ayo.  As we wander past it they are cooking the most enormous paella – the pan is so large that it takes two people to lift it off the fire (which is being fed broken down wooden pallets!).  And it is clearly hot and well liked as we see numerous portions being delivered from the pan.

We are always contrary – I wanted some prawns and I receive five of the largest prawns I have ever seen.  A plate of the paella was €6.75; my prawns were €15 which was about the most expensive item on the menu.  But plenty for lunch as we have dinner booked.

Going back to our hotel seemed a lot harder – that nice zig zag down is a much harder crawl back up the hill.

Come Saturday night it is time for our last restaurant outing, this time to Bakus in Calle Caballero.  This is about half way to Burriana without the descent to sea level.  Indeed most of Nerja is fairly flat, but way above sea level.

It does not open at lunchtime and not all evenings – so checking in advance and booking is essential – particularly as it was full on the evening we were there.  The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the steak which was just right and a good piece of meat.  The lowlight was my head!  I stood up to go to the gents and my head collided with a low flying lampshade.  Which my wife then noticed was missing a piece of the glass of the lampshade.  I spent several moments looking for the missing piece and finding nothing before going on my original errand.

On my return my wife advised that in fact the piece had been broken some months ago with a wine bottle and not with my head that evening.  I think they need to be a little higher!

The wine list had a range of wines from about €10 to €30 – very different to UK prices.  Not really recognising any of the listed offers we asked the waiter for a suitable red to go with the steaks we had ordered and he pointed at us at a Tempranillo for €15.  Bear in mind this is about £12 at present.  Tell me of a restaurant that even sells a wine at that price in the UK.

Having had a good week on the food and drink we also enjoyed this final meal and the total bill was around €90 including the tip.  This maybe expensive for Nerja, but is exceedingly good value for money in most parts of the world.  We enjoyed our meal and it was noticeable that even at this relatively quiet time of the year the restaurant was full by the time we left (we always eat early).

On the way back into town we stopped off at a little bar my wife had been eyeing up all week.  Basic – but a good Rioja is €2 for a glass.  They also cook flaming sausages at the barrel top in front of you.  We did not partake have already eaten well, but I think it will force my wife to return to this part of the world.

Great food, great wine and good value prices.  Must be time to go home.

More soon.

Nerja 2 – Restaurant Jacky

Thursday 12 March 2015

Having had a relatively long day on the Wednesday we had decided that Thursday would be a relatively quiet day and so much of it is spent displaying large amounts of unsightly white flesh to the sun in the hope that it might decide to go a slightly less white colour.  And it gives me a chance to catch up on sundry listening such as the rural fly on the wall documentary – The Archers – plus a related podcast entitled Dum Tee Dum.  The former is at present coping with the aftermath of the Great Flood without the assistance of Noah and an Ark to save the animals and it will all be forgotten in the blink of an eye.

Having done her research my wife has booked us into the Thursday night dinner at Restaurant Jacky where the chef provides a single (and ever changing no doubt) menu for all diners.  Eight courses plus white and red wine. €22 each plus 10% tax plus a tip.  My wife left a total of €60 at the end of our dining experience which more than covered the bill and a decent tip.  This was the best value for money ever I would suggest.


This was the menu for the evening and obviously needs a little translation.  Bouchée a la reina is a simple vol au vent containing a tasty combination of chicken and mushroom in a sauce.  A great way to start.  And good enough to justify mopping up the sauce using some bread.

Crema de calabaza led to some discussion at the time as to content of the soup.  Later use of modern technology provides the answer – a large winter squash which resembles  a pumpkin.  I had the opportunity to eat half of my wife’s portion as she was already concerned about the size of the meal, initial portions being decently sized.

Even we managed to work out that foie gras was next on the menu; this came with morello cherries.  Whilst not the best we have ever had this was very good.  It is one of the few foods not to my wife’s taste so I was able to have an extra half portion of this as well.  About here we were asked how we wanted the steak cooked and made our usual choices – medium rare for me and medium for my wife.

The next course caused the upset of the evening.  We asked for an indication of the meaning and were advised that it was “sea horses” which meant that I again got to eat much of a second portion as my wife believed it.  The correct translation is “sea urchins” and I found it quite tasty – just a good sea soup.

The sorbet was raspberry with seven up.  On the sweet side for me – but I did try it and it was certainly setup to do the job that a sorbet should; my wife was able to finish it off.

All the way when our glasses seemed to be going down they were topped up – only with white wine at this stage – but without obvious limit as we go through the meal.

We could translate the next one – white fish in a green sauce and that was an accurate description.  A nice solid piece of fish and a green sauce!  My wife’s comment was “Yum” and I cannot disagree.

The steaks were not large (but we were pretty full by this point in any event) but certainly of good quality and tasty with a good mushroom sauce.  To accompany the steak we are poured a glass of red wine; unlike the white there are no top ups on this – but then at these prices it is all amazing.

And to round off the meal a piece of cake with chocolate on the top.  Simple – but nice; again I relinquished much of this.

After eating so much I felt more like some fresh air rather than coffee and so we decided to head back towards our hotel.  However during the meal we heard at least one table book for next Thursday and another table discussing that the last time they were all together was in the same restaurant – I think most of the voices were English!

On the way back to the hotel we had to pass MarBella as mentioned earlier this week so we wandered in and through into the chill out bar at the back.  Time for a liquer coffee for my wife and (in my case) a Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky.  And another one a bit later.  When I first reached an age to drink I was told how you could only buy Black Label abroad with Red Label (supposedly markedly inferior) at home.  So I still make a point of digesting some Black Label when the opportunity arises.  The next stage is to avoid a hangover!

Summary report on the restaurant – the best value for money bar none plus the best food at any price this week.  I really cannot understand how they can afford to produce such an excellent meal at this price without losing money.  Absolutely outstanding and recommended to anyone going to Nerja.

Granada, not the TV station

Wednesday 11 March 2015

So just to clear up the heading we are off to the City of Granada and the Bernsteins used that name for their chain of cinemas based in southern England and later for their bid for the northern ITV franchises originally offered, so there is a link between the two.  Granada is the Spanish for pomegranate which is also the symbol of the city.

An early start this morning as the outing has to be planned around the availability of the limited tickets for the Alhambra which was the last strong hold of Muslims in western Europe and is the main purpose of our visit.  Collected at 8am we drift off to sleep for much of the journey, with one 20 minute stop for refreshments we reach the unloading point in Granada around 10:20.

Our guide leads us into the city centre and indicates where the local attractions can be found within walking distance and the need to regroup at 12:20 to return to the coach to be taken to the Alhambra Palace – a red fort on top of the hill.

Much of the area we saw in Granada (which was limited) looked like typical 19th century construction and there was little of huge architectural merit in the buildings around the centre.  Exceptions to this are of course the Cathedral (but hemmed in by more buildings) and the architecture in the Arab market (which is tiny, with no more than five entrances); sadly the shops within the market area no longer reflect the Arab inheritance.

The highlight is the Alhambra Palaces and these were largely the construction of the Islamic Nasrid rulers largely developed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when this was a great centre of Moorish power in the west which eventually succumbed to Spanish rule in 1492.  Thereafter the Islamic people were driven from the area by various degrees and use of force.

Once the Catholics had gained control they also ruled from here and changes were made to reflect the new religion without obliviating the Muslim writings already on the wall.  In that sense it follows what happened at Angkor Wat where the new religion coming did not remove the previous Hindu carvings, but merely added new to reflect the change to Buddhism.  At the Alhambra this is first seen at the Justice Gate where a statue of the Madonna and Jesus has been installed above the entrance.

Like many places we have seen there is no furniture or any other evidence of how the rulers lived within the palaces.  The guide taking us around was fairly clear in which were the male quarters and the female quarters but evidence and knowledge of what lies behind the decoration and how the palaces operated is simply non-existent.  And there is now no method for finding answers to those questions.

Within the palaces there are however some marvellous decoration, although much of the colours have faded with perhaps only the blue surviving.  Like the temples of Siem Reap the site fell into disuse and was only rediscovered in the nineteenth century and the restoration and reworking of parts of the buildings means that many ceilings are completely new and other changes have been made.

As ever I would refer your to Wikipedia for a far better description than mine of what we saw.

When sorted and labelled I will add a link to my Flickr photos of the Palaces.

Linked to the main Palaces but outside the walls is the Summer Palace which occupies a position on an adjacent hillside.  This was built later and in summer no doubt provides a cooler outlook on the world.  Later in the 1930’s a formal garden was designed and added to the outside of the Palace and this was extended in the 1960’s with a small amphitheatre for outdoor productions.  The entire area now needs a large number of maintenance staff to maintain the gardens.  Whilst simple the gardens and Summer Palace should not be missed; so save some of your strength as this always comes at the end of the tour.

We are collected at 16:30 and as we leave Granada we can see the snow laden hills of the Sierra Nevada in the distance.  In the old days probably not worth a photo, but with modern digitals we are all clicking away madly in the hope of getting a single good shot.  Manage to remain awake for much of the journey – which interestingly requires the coach engine to work hard as a brake as significant parts of the journey are downhill and it is all good motorway for much of the trip including some significant lengths of tunnelling.  We are back in Nerja before 6 – much faster than the outward journey and reflective no doubt of the slow climb of the hills.  No doubt the motorways are of modern construction which led me to wonder if say 30 years ago it would even have been possible to do the entire trip in a single day.

No special meals today, but uniquely we did consume ham and cheese in some form at each of our three meals today.


Tuesday 10 March 2015

Not far from Nerja is Frigiliana – a small town a little way up in the hills from Nerja.  There is a bus service with a simple fare structure – €1 for the ride there and the same back later.  It takes about 15 minutes from the Nerja “bus station” – a somewhat overblown description as there is one stop on each side of the road and the buses do not stop anywhere else in the town!  I suppose they are stationary whilst at the stop.

Waiting the other side of the road when we arrive in Frigiliana is a road train and this costs €3 each (that seems expensive after the bus ride) for a trip around the lower part of the town with a running commentary and some stunning views in all directions – we failed to spot the oft mentioned pink chapel, however.  If we return we might see it – anyone got any pictures?  Tell us what we missed.  The caves of Nerja are famous (and we will be going there later in the week), but we are also pointed at some local cave entrances in the distance.

Now it is time to climb up into the old town.  Almost immediately we are climbing up steps – fairly gently – but we are heading upwards.  My wife has been here before and tells me that “Le Mirador” restaurant is at the top of the old town and before long we pick up signs telling us which way to go.  As we ascend we see some carefully maintained corners and areas of plants and flowers.  Hopefully some of the photographs have made their way onto my Flickr page.

We are still going upwards when we pass a nice looking restaurant sign – but it is not lunchtime just yet; a little further up there is a guitarist playing outside another restaurant with signs to other bars and so on.  Anyway the steps seem to lead upwards, but then suddenly we are on a little slope downwards and just a bit further we reach ‘Le Mirador’ and it is on the dot twelve.  So could be lunchtime.  We ask for a menu but we are advised that food does not become available until 1.  If we just sit in the sun and drink it might be overdoing it by the time lunch arrives.  So we decide to go for a bit more of a wander and we find another restaurant but the wife was unimpressed by the smell so we depart and find we are going down and not along the way we came up.

Going down is easy, too easy.  We end up below the level at which we started this exercise and way, way out of town and as we walk back towards the town centre there is no access back into the old town.  And time is passing.  Eventually a huge set of steps and steep and UPWARDS.  We are heading in the right direction and eventually start picking up the signs for Le Mirador again but long before we get there we reach Oshun and seeing the sign we reckon this might be worth trying.  So we stumble in the front door and out the back onto a very nice terrace and a wonderful view.  And it is very definitely lunch time!

So go and look at the photos which are here.

The menu is studied but we are also offered some specials of the day and mostly this sounds better than the menu.  Our waiter has spent some time working in London and has pretty good English.  My wife orders the rabbit salad, with the rabbit wrapped around asparagus and then an outer wrapping of bacon and cut into about eight slices.  I order the octopus in galician style and this is just my cup of tea –  slices of octopus in olive oil with some paprika.

The main courses selected were cod baked in the oven for me and because she has so enjoyed the seea bass the previous evening in Nerja my wife ordered it again for lunch.  What she forgot to check was the filletting situation.  When it came the sea bass still had all of its bones. Luckily foresight (never order the same meal as the wife just in case) meant that there was a solution.  I got to eat the sea bass and my wife consumed the cod.  Inevitably I got the odd mouthful of bony bits and sadly my wife always thinks cod is fairly tasteless; but I felt both pieces of fish were well cooked and well presented and I had no problems at all eating the sea bass – it just saved me have to order it somewhere else during the holiday.

The waiter recommended a rather good bottle of white wine a rueda verdejo which comes from Northern Spain and this provides a very good accompaniment to the meal we had chosen.

A word about the waiter, when we sat down he kindly moved a chair for us to put bags and hats and so on to the side – in full view but also off the floor so that he did not tread on them.  Very thoughtful.  Also his English may not have been perfect but he tried very hard to ensure he described the food – and no doubt it was those explanations which led to us largely eating the say’s specials.

A cup of coffee each.

The bill including tip was €90 which for the quality of the food and service was excellent value.  If you can find it without getting lost first then I am sure it will be equally enjoyable!

We walked down the steps again and visited the local art exhibition and museum.  On her visit last year my wife nearly bought a painting and hoped it might still be there.  However the exhibits had all changed and so that opportunity had gone.

Time for the bus back to Nerja and a wander down through the streets which at 4pm are just coming awake again after the siesta break.  We have enjoyed a wonderful day in the sun shine (for the time of year the temperature is probably well above normal) but we pass the local residents still wearing the overcoats and woollies – we have been in T shirts and shorts all day.



Monday 9 March 2015

The day opens slightly overcast – have we made a mistake?  Down to level four (this hotel is slightly confused, reception is on level six and the pool is accessed from level five but is actually up some steps; far from ideal for the disabled, although there are ramps and lifts to get around) for breakfast.  The choice is amazing and everything I eat is good or very good.

Porridge is my staple breakfast and is readily available here.  Then a fried egg with bacon and mushrooms.  Good coffee and fruit juice and today is off to a much better start than yesterday.

We then descend to level zero again and take to sunbeds with the intention of getting brown; this is accompanied by either reading, listening (the last week of The Archers has been very wet) or snoozing, with occasional turning to prevent anything getting too burnt.

By mid afternoon that is enough for one day so the late lunch is now an ice-cream from the shop selling “sin azucar” – without sugar.  Another wander around a different bit of the town shows a variety of shops and restaurants including a Japanese tenpanyaki which I am advised by my wife who has been here before was not here last May when she visited.

My photos of the Balcony of Europe are here

This evening we are not eating in the hotel but are instead going around the corner.  We emerge from the hotel into the main square as the church is emptying.  There has been a funeral, huge flower displays  and we respectfully wait until the funeral cars depart with the entire church attendees following behind.

Our destination is MarBella which is an interesting place.  Approached from the front it looks like a nice place to sit in the shade in the main square; but as we wish to see the entertainment later (flamenco) we enter and are shown to a table; then the poor waiter moves us because he needs to build a stage for the entertainment.  Then after some discussion we move back so that we can see the new stage.  But MarBella is deceptive.  Whilst we eat (see below) people walk in and through the bar where we are sitting to look at a terrace and then come back out again!  We had not seen this and so a bit later we wander through – and there is a nice enough courtyard and then a bit further on there is a well appointed chill out bar and then beyond this there is a huge dining area with wonderful view out to sea!  It could be the Tardis as it is definitely larger on the inside than the outside.

Dining options are varied.  A Gastronomic menu is offered for €22 or there is extensive carte at a variety of prices, although generally higher than most of the neighboroughing establishments and indeed several times during the evening we heard potential and actual diners complain about the prices – but that is simply because of the low level of prices around the town.

My wife convinces the slightly reluctant staff that she should have the mushroom soup from the Menu Gastronomique even though it is not on the ordinary menu.  As usual she succeeds.  I chose to start with a delicious shellfish soup – after all by the sea one should eat fresh fish.

In my case I choose to follow this with a leg of lamb – which turns out to be much larger than I had expected.  On the other side of the table a filletted sea bass is delivered and we both enjoy our main courses.  Empty plates are a sign of the enjoyment of the eaters.

A bottle of red wine (Marques de Caceres) accompanies the meal.  Subsequently we consume a glass of the house red (not so good) and a decent cup of coffee whilst we enjoy the flamenco display.  The group consists of two male guitarists and a female dancer who dances the last number in each set.  The younger guitarist is particularly good.

We wander back to our hotel.  A good start to our holiday.

Hey Viva Espana

Sunday 8 March 2015

March.  Winter sun.  Last year Lanzarote, the year before Marrakech.  Always good to get away.  Except the day before we go the sun puts it hat on and comes out for a glorious warm sunny day.  Which seems a faint memory at 2:45 in the morning when the alarm goes off.  Gatwick here we come – except that thanks to some unexpected and unwarned road closures we end up closer to Heathrow than Gatwick in the first instance.

Now Thomson may be the best travel company in the world but they have really not got the hang of online check in.  We all do it so we are checked in.  So all we need to do at Gatwick is hand the bags over to an airline person for weighing and labelling – 30 seconds per bag.  What we do not need under any circumstances is a 30 minute check in queue, where because Thomson cannot have enough check in clerks staff are instead walking up and down the lines calling for people on flights which are currently close to boarding.  This meant I did NOT get my promised breakfast at the Caviar House.  Thomson – this was not a busy day.  Please get it sorted either doonline check in and mean it – or make sure all the desks are (wo)manned.

Also to my fellow travellers – wake up – even if it is six in the morning.  Getting through security requires you to get your bag and laptop in the boxes and yourself through the portal so that the security team can either pat you down or wave you through.  Not being ready to go through security so that the security people can stand around chatting and causing a queue behind you is unforgiveable, especially when my blood sugar levels are already falling and I have not had a proper night’s sleep and I am not going to get my breakfast.

Great flight down to Malaga where we are through passport control and in the hall waiting before the conveyor belt starts up.  Onto the coach and an hour’s journey along the coast to Nerja.  Bit of fooling around with being dropped off and then collected by a minibus to get close to the hotel and then a walk through the pedestrianised plaza to Hotel Balcon d’Europa.

Descending to level zero in the hotel brings us to the sea and lunch.  A couple of beers and the local fried fish.  The sun is shining brightly and we are at the seaside.  What more could you want?

Unpack and then a snooze.  Then a bit of walk around some of the town but we return to the hotel as it is time for “happy hour”.  Two glasses of Rioja.  And a bill for two Euros plus nuts.  So another two glasses of red and this time two plates of olives.  Total bill four Euros.  Clearly inflation has not yet got out of hand in Spain.

Downstairs to the restaurant for dinner.  Nothing special or outstanding – good solid fare.