Well we’re here! Getting Bear Cub up at 3.45am was not the ordeal I expected and he seemed to cope with it better than me! The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Alicante still fairly early in the morning. I was very proud of myself that I managed to get us to our guest house by bus and not taxi as was tempting. La Milagrosa was only a 5 minute walk from where the bus dropped us at the beach but with me loaded up like a packhorse with our stuff it took more like 10-15.
Alicante’s old town is beautiful – quaint and picturesque – exactly what you’d want and exect from an old Spanish town. The B&B we stayed in turned out to be a real find. Though basic, it was clean, cheap and superbly located – in the old town and a 5 minute walk from the beach, opposite Basilica Santa Maria and with views of Castilla de Santa Barbara from the rooftop breakfast terrace. The Basilica of Santa Maria is the oldest active church in Alicante, Spain. It was built-in Gothic style between the 14th and 16th centuries over the remains of a mosque. Santa Bárbara Castle is a fortification in the centre of Alicante, Spain. It stands on the Mount Benacantil.
On our first day we had a lazy explore and hit the beach in the afternoon after Bear Cub had tasted his first proper Tapas. The beach at Plaza del Mar was crowded but lovely and with beautiful blue, clear, warm water so we enjoyed a dip, a splash and a play as well as a little snooze together on the beach in the sun 🙂 For dinner after a much needed shower we ate at a fish restaurant that was fairly reasonable and Bear Cub was fascinated and repulsed by the squid!
On our second day in Alicante, we ventured up the mountain to Castilla de Santa Barbara, Alicante’s famous castle. We wisely took the lift up (€2.50 for me and free for Bear Cub) and walked back down (and got a little lost!) The views at the top were breath-taking and Bear Cub loved seeing the old cannons, battering rams and catapults they had there. There also happened to be a great little exhibition on at the Castle of the ‘History of Alicante’ told by Play Mobil figures and scenes. It was a bit pricey for what it was €7 for me and €4 for Bear Cub – but fun nevertheless and Bear Cub thought it was very cool!
After a brief rest back at the B&B we spent the afternoon at the beach again frolicking in the sea and building sand castles – which it turns out I am rubbish at! Then it was back for a shower and out for dinner – Pizza this time!
On our last morning we made a brief visit to the Museum of Contemporary Arts which was also just opposite our B&B and had a lay on a park. Then it was time to load up the pack-horse and head to the airport to pick up our hire car for the next week. As we left the B&B I was a bit apprehensive realising it was the last time I would be sleeping in a proper bed for a good few weeks!
Our first camping stop was in Valencia – two hours drive North from Alicante.
It has been eventful! It has been challenging! First there was the ordeal of the car hire. It turns out you can’t pay cash for the fuel and one-way fee I had outstanding and they only accept credit card. I don’t own a credit card! Nobody told me this! I used the airport computer to transfer money from my bank account to my Post Office Travel money card which has the MasterCard symbol – apparently this was no good either as it did not have my name on it! In the end I was forced to take their insurance even though I had already bought my own stand alone policy which saves a lot of money, and they took my debit card while I prayed it didn’t bounce after I’d moved most of the funds to the P.O card! It didn’t bounce – we were off!
The next challenge was getting used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Little did I know this was to be the least of my challenges over the next 24 hours!
After wasting an hour deciding I didn’t trust the Sat Nav to take me to Pedralba, Valencia, we finally got on our way and thankfully Ru slept for most of the journey. Arriving at our campsite in the Valencian countryside – Campo Pedralba – run by a lovely Dutch couple Rinco and Annalieke – it was certainly rustic! Absolutely beautiful, but rustic. Campo Pedralba has a cabin, a Yurt and 3 adorable Tipees as well as the field we had to ourselves. There is a lovely outdoor kitchen for the use of campers. Immaculately clean with a great little pool that Bear Cub loved it was a little haven but felt very far away from the city and the coast.
My first camping experience was to be a baptism by fire. Why oh why did I not practice this in England before? I’d sort of had a go at putting my tent up in my mum’s garden but without the tent pegs and this was the part that proved to be a big problem! The ground was rock solid from the scorching sun! It was 6.30pm and still 32 degrees and I sweated and stressed over this tent for an hour at least tying to get the tent pegs in using a large rock and bending most of them in the process! I finally got it up in a fashion. Bear Cub who was understandably, bored hot and bothered by now was hungry and tired too! I was stressed and close to tears and wondering if the whole thing was a bad idea! Camping? Abroad? What was I thinking?? After a quick pasta dinner and a much needed shower – I seriously have not sweated so much in my life – It was bedtime! Bear Cub slept like a log and I hardly slept a wink! It was just so hot in the tent and I couldn’t get comfortable. Plus my head was full of worry – about the tent pegs, about being an irresponsible parent, about the whole trip – while Bear Cub slept peacefully on.
The next day was an early start and I was exhausted. But we ventured to Valencia (40 mins away)in search of the Oceonografic – Valencia’s famous aquarium – apparently one of the biggest in Eurpoe and Bear Cub is a huge fan of sea life! As usual in the past 24 hours, things did not go t plan and due to a series of bad directions, miscommunications and travelling in circles, we finally got the right bus to the aquarium. thankfully it was worth it. The Oceonografic was very impressive and Bear Cub was enthralled, though a little too tired to enjoy it fully due to the long walk in the hot sun. But we watched the amazing Dolphin show, saw sharks and Beluga whales up close and every kind of fish that must exist.
On the way back to the camp site we stopped in sleepy, quaint Pedralba where no body seemed to speak a word of English – the butcher didn’t even know the word for sausage which made for some interesting gesturing! We bought dinner and returned to the site and cooked on the lovely outdoor kitchen.
It’s another late night for Bear Cub at 9.45pm and I’m writing this in the dark while he sleeps next to me through an almighty thunderstorm – wind, rain, thunder and lightning – the lot! If the tent is still standing by the morning – I’ll be amazed! Well this was meant to be an adventure!
Well the tent stayed up so my skills can’t have been as poor as I thought and I slept a little better too. After taking down the tent (much, much easier than putting it up) Bear Cub had a swim in the little pool while I chatted to our lovely hosts who in one word became my camping saviours – Decathalon! Decathalon, as I discovered to my utter delight was not just a camping show but a camping superstore – an outdoor adventurers heaven and the holders of stronger tent pegs, a mallet, a cotton sleeping bag liner (much cooler than a bag) and a mini stove and pan set that I left with an hour later. Plus new sandals as I was very annoyed to find my Merrell geek sandals broke already less than a week in! Equipped for anything we headed for Castellon and arrived at Camping Ribamar under two hours later. This time we’re right by the sea and I am not just pleased but downright chuffed and patting myself on the back and doing a victory dance to say that I am tying this in a tent I put up like a pro with my new gadgets and in a fraction of the time and sweat as before! High-fiving myself as I type this. I also cooked us a pasta dinner on our little stove and pan set! Camping Ribamar is situated actually in the Natural Park of Sierra de Irta. The site is really well equipped but much more commercial than Campo Pedralba and bigger and busier and therefore much noisier. The little kids seem to be allowed to stay up al night here! Bear Cub is asleep next to me so it doesn’t seem to bother him but I’m not good with noise. but I am slowly adapting to camping. Better stop now and close the tent as I have a feeling I’m being eaten alive by mozzies!
We plan to visit Peniscola tomorrow which has to be good if it’s named after the male most *troublesome body part and a soft drink!
* perhaps this should be amended to ‘the mind’
Peniscola was beautiful; a little walled village high on a mountain overlooking a beautiful beach. Unfortunately Bear Cub was too tired to climb to the top to see the castle, which I would have liked to do, so we headed for the beach instead and into the clear, blue sea and he was delighted to find fish swimming around us! On the way back to the campsite we stopped off for dinner at Alcossebre the nearest town to our campsite which was just beginning to come to life for the evening at 7pm! We’re gradually getting used to the siesta when everything pretty much shuts down from 2-6pm and children seem to stay up a lot later here. It is pretty much 33 degrees every day until 8pm so it is impossible to put Bear Cub to bed any earlier than 9/10pm. We are getting around this by letting him have a sleep during the day usually when we are travelling in the car. It has worked so far although I think the tiredness is beginning to catch up on him. It’s off to our last stop in Spain tomorrow before we venture to France.
The journey from Castellon to Girona was our longest yet of around 3 hours so we stopped for lunch in Tarragona. One thing I am discovering as a hidden cost is the huge amount of toll roads on the Spanish highways. It is of course possible to avoid them by taking a different route but this can add up to a couple of hours on to your journey which is undesirable with a four-year old in tow! I really should say my one of my saving graces when travelling around so far has been a brilliant Smart phone App I saw recommended on Money Saving Expert called ‘Nav Free’. It is a Sat Nav App that is free and requires no Internet connection – unlike Google Maps. I downloaded the App for Spain, France and Italy and so far it has been great. You can also switch it to walking mode which has helped me to find places in towns and villages.
Our campsite in Girona was Can Toni Manescal and turned out to be my favourite so far in Spain despite being the most basic. We had lovely views of the Pyrenees in the distance, a nice pool and it was basically run by a family on their farm so the air was filled with the sounds of Cocks crowing, donkeys hee-hawing and ducks quacking. The friendly host, Llorenç ran the campsite from their lovely farm-house and they also provided the menu each evening which turned out to be the best food I’ve had in Spain so far, particularly their ‘Coloured salad with fresh flowers from the garden’ – this was possibly the best salad I’ve ever had. On the two nights we stayed we were treated to grilled pork loin, barbecued sausage and grilled giant prawns.
When we visited the town of Girona just a short drive away I fell in love. We parked by the old part and crossed the little bridge into what seemed like a magical land the centrepiece of which was the stunning Cathedral. I don’t usually like paying for looking round churches but it was so beautiful on the outside I wanted to see inside and Bear Cub was unusually keen too. At 7 Euros it was worth it as the Cathedral was stunning. The best word to describe it was awesome. It really did fill me with awe. I’m not sure if there really is something special about Holy buildings themselves or just the effect of so many people seeking God and talking to him there, but there was most definitely a tangible feeling of peace and holiness and I found it centred me in some way.
For the afternoon we headed back to the campsite for a lazy session by the pool and then I prepared to fit everything back in the back pack as we would be returning our car the next day to Girona airport. This was quite a task as we had spread out somewhat over that last week pretty much dumping stuff all over the car and had acquired a few items too including some camping materials.
On the morning we left, Bear Cub woke up feeling ill but I suspected he was so let him sleep over-tired in the car while I packed down the tent and attempted to squeeze our life into the backpack. Then it was off to the airport to return the car and then to the train station to travel to Perpignan for the French leg of our trip!