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Traveldiary chapter 2 [November 1999 - May 2000]
(Wintering in Spain & Portugal)


Switzerland

France

Spain

Portugal
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Winter + Spring in Spain and Portugal, wintering in naturist resort Costa Natura, through France back to Switzerland

After a great summer in Scandinavia, we “migrated” end of November 1999 to Spain, where we successfully  escaped the cold weather and the `millennium bugs`. Our wish, to find a warm spot in the usually cold European winter, became true. Even though, the weather-man didn’t provide us every day with the temperatures, we wished, but for 80-90% of sunny days, we had to accept a little compromise. Never the less, on sunny days, temperature quickly rose to 20 ºC, and even on a rainy day, they rarely sank below 12 ºC. Of course, this can just be found  on Spain’s southernmost coast, but even from here, you can see snow-covered mountains in January.

First, we had to cross France. Our first stop was Annecy. We had to waive our planned lazy stroll through the city center, it was freezing cold (-12 ºC). So we just went into the first Restaurant we came across and hoped it would be a good bet. It was still freezing on the next morning, but already after a few “autobahn hours” further south, we caught up with the warm weather.  Although our air-condition was running, even Brigitte wanted to stop now, to change the long trousers for shorts.

After a night in charming Béziers, we left the motorway in Perpignan and drove via Port Vendres along the spectacular coastal road south.

Our 1st stop in Spain was the fascinating city of  Barcelona. For about one week, we set out on a discovery journey from one historical building to the next. We admired several famous “Gaudi” and if you’re not a cultural low/brow, you certainly know what this is.
Unavoidably, we soon came across the first menu’s , and those were just some of the occasions, where the spanish-lessons we had taken, proved to be useful. The Spanish are very sociable and in the evening, they all gathered and went out to eat and dance. We wondered when they sleep. If you get a nice accommodation in the center of a town, you can not expect it to be quiet before 4 o’clock in the morning, since the disco didn’t even open until 2 a.m.

Continuing our way south, on the next 1’000 km, we mainly saw artificial tourist developments. Very often, little sleepy fishing villages had grown to become ugly tourist cities. With the EU-Schengen agreement, the building boom became another boost and it’s quite obvious, who caused it. German and English signs are predominant, Dutch restaurants, Swedish-French doctors, German butchers, Swiss-Chalet, Belgian real-estate agency, just name it, and you’ll get it ! They are very happy, if they can buy their “local products….” where they can trust the product and the employees. Who could  buy his English newspaper from a Spanish dealer? Enough critism, out now to the countryside ! After a night in Miami Platja, we reached charming Peniscola. The old town is nestled on a peninsula and attracts many Spanish and foreign tourists.

Afterwards, we stayed in Xabia with it’s spectacular coastline. We continued past the ugly tourist-ghetto of Benidorm to Mazzaron, which attracts mainly Spanish visitors and therefore, was almost dead in December.

The mountain ranges just a few kilometers inland rose up to considerable heights and was astonishingly barren and tree-less. Brown and marked by the summer heat, it looked almost as a stone-desert. A nice contrast to that, were the white washed villages, that clung on the slopes. The further south we came, the nicer they were. In big parts of the coastal region, especially from Almeria westwards, you can see, where people get their earnings from. On  giant fields, the steepest hills were even terraced all the way down to the sea. HH      HereHere they plant all the veggie’s which are eaten in the rest of Europe; tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, etc. These were often grown under several square-km long plastic-tunnels. The sight of them was not that beautiful, but it’s nickname “Costa Plastica” matches perfectly !

Oranges, mandarines and lemon on the other hand, were cultivated in orchards. Those trees were now full of fruit and are ready for harvesting before X-Mas. In the less accessible landscape, we found valley’s full with olive trees and big figcactuses spread almost like weed between them.

We made a short stop in La Rabita, before we reached Nerja. Initially, we just wanted to do a short lunch-break here, but this nice tourist-oasis, which was grown out of a fishing village, did attract us that much, that we decided to stay here, even though, we hadn’t done 50 km on this day.

On December 10th, we arrived at our winter quarter. In the naturist village with beautiful kept gardens, we rented an apartment with sea-view. We were quite excited about the nice location we were given with apartment nr. 127 in Costa Natura. This resort is a bit away from the Costa del sol’s big tourist-towns, so we were quite secluded from the big bustle.

Already on the next day, we went to Malaga airport, to meet our friends Moni and Bruno. They shared with us the beauty of this little paradise for the next 6 weeks. Here we were  among the youngest people, except between X-Mas and New Year. Otherwise, most guests were retired or early-retired people. Many stayed here for the mild winter with it’s many sunny days.
It didn’t matter, whether we went by ourselves or in a group of 6 to the sauna or to the Jacuzzi, we immediately socialized with the other guests. To our surprise, many of them were as “normal” as we, and also “dropped out” with 40 !

After a months in a group of 4, Graeme joined in, an experienced traveler from New Zealand, and we continued to exchange our travel-experiences. For some time he was out, visiting Granada and Seville between. Only 2 days after he had arrived, our swiss friend Brigitte (we call her Echo, because of  the same name) joined as well. Although her ex-boyfriend was sure, we wouldn’t be able to tear her to a naturist resort, even with 10 horses. But in the meantime, she changed her inner self quite revolutionary.
It was just great to be such a big gang and in the meantime, our car could find the way to the airport almost by itself.

In March 2000, after 3 months in Costa Natura, we finally managed to lift our (meanwhile brown) bums again, to experience a bit more of Spain.

Our first stop was in Granada. Already the castle of the Alhambra, a large muslim monument, which was built in the 9th century as a fortress and turned into a palace complex in the 13th century. Later, when the country got christianized, the new kings took over and extended it with some Christian décor. Also, the giant parks around it, were really fascinating with lots of spring flowers. All before a background of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains. Granada itself was not that spectacular, except the arab quarter, with it’s streetmarket, teahouses and restaurants.

Continuing our way, we made a little detour to a lake, where many flamingos were breeding.
Córdoba was our next stop. This was a pretty place. Proper dressed up, again with a huge medieval mosque, that was later converted into a Christian temple. It was very astonishing to see this building with it’s 850 marble pillars, which supported it’s colourful arches. Busloads of tourists flocked to this place.

A bit further west, just out of Seville, we visited the neat walled town of Carmona, which is neatly set up on a hilltop.

Right now, was a very good time for traveling around Andalusia, except that we had to pay peak season prices, which were introduced one week ago.

In Sevilla, in the middle of March, the thermometer rose easily up to 30ºC. In July + August, they are expected to rise up to 50 ºC. That’s when prices for accommodation go considerably down again. Understandable, we wouldn’t like to bear this summer heat either, so we rather paid more and were here now! As the town is quite large, on the end of every day, our feet felt flat and hot.

Seville is Spanish live at it’s best. After 7 o’clock,  Spaniards love to be in the crowd. The streets were full, everybody seemed to stroll around or visit bars to eat some starters, those famous Tapas and much later only, the restaurants and disco’s. We often saw large groups of Spaniards entering a restaurant at almost midnight and still order a full meal.
We as well, took advantage of the nightlife; at 23:15 h we sat in a cybercafe the biggest one we had seen so far, 30 terminals and almost all were taken. It remained open till 2 o’clock in the morning.

Afterwards, we waived farewell to Spain for a little while and moved on to Portugal. Instantly, we recognized a big difference between the two countries. On one hand, Portugal was poorer than Spain and on the other hand, the Portuguese seemed to lack the temperament and the joviality of their neighbors.

If we watched their faces, on the road or in the subway, it reminded us quite well of the stressed faces we knew from Switzerland. Also the climate, even in the south, was far not as warm as it was now in Andalusia.

At first, we explored the Algarve region, with it’s amazing landscape. Our first impression of this country, we got in Tavira, where we did see already the first curious tailed houses. Afterwards, we went a b it inland to Silves, where we couldn’t get rid of the impression, that this village was mainly restored as a “good sample village  for tourists.

Back on the coast, we stayed for a week in the resort town of Lagos. It’s amazing coastal landscape looked alike the ‘great ocean road’ in Australia. On our way around the south-cape, we visited, on Brigitte’s demand, an area with some pretty sand dunes. Next stop, we stayed at Sintra, which is a popular destination for weekend-trips, although it’s heyday’s have passed already, as the many rundown villas witness. Then there was an old monastery with two large cone-shaped towers or chimneys that tower on a hill. As the location is just 40 minutes by subway out of Lisbon, we chose it as a base from which we also set out to explore the capital.

Lisbon is quite a bit wealthy, dressed up, but even in the center, you saw quite a few houses which were falling apart. It’s suburbs were in general modern, but very monotonous skyscraper settlements, but also, we’ve seen some poor slums.
This towns broad sides, are certainly the big main square, it’s (free standing) elevator, some historical buildings and mainly the modern and partly very large bridges. They cross the rivermouth and ocean inlets, which are around the town. One looks almost like the famous "Golden Gate Bridge".

Our last stop in Portugal was Evora, with it’s large walled historical centre. This place did really earn it’s listing in the UNESCO world-heritage list.

Now we came back to   Spain and visited the medieval town of  Cáseres, which is as well protected by the UNESCO list. The many storks with their nests all over the city, did make our visit even more valuable.

Via Trojllo, we continued to central Spain, to Toledo. For us a real highlight again. The large historical old town sat on a hill, surrounded by the ‘Rio Tajo’ which flows almost in a circle around the town. Many bridges connect the old town with the new parts and some other hills. With no surprise, this city is also UNESCO listed, this seems to be just normal in this part of Europe.

Now, it was just a short drive to Madrid. In comparison to what we had seen just before, the capital seemed to be a bit sterile and less interesting. We found, everything was newer, but it didn’t have a heart. A visit to Madrid it still worthwhile, even if it’s just to soak into the Spanish (night)life. We considered a dip in the crowd always as very relaxing, except on the odd evening, when this “bath” was on a day when there was a football match against an English soccer team and lot’s of drunk people roamed the streets.  And, where else in the world can you find regularly traffic jams at 5 a.m. when all people go back home, after a night out ?

Via la Almunila we went back to the Mediterranean coast. For one week, we stayed in a mobile-home at the naturist resort “el templo del sol” in Hospitalet del infantes near Tarragona. Here in northern Spain, in the middle of April, unfortunately, the sun didn’t shine as reliably as on the Costa del Sol. Thanks to the excellent restaurant and the well equipped shop, we enjoyed our time here anyway.

Now, we continued to   France, where we stayed for the first night in the neat city of Perpignan. On the next morning, we checked in clear blue sky, some holiday resorts between Port Leucate and Cap d’Agde. We got the impression, this section of coastline is a bit over-touristy. As a very strong wind was blowing, sunbathing in springtime, even in sunny weather, seemed to be almost impossible. The well covered people we had seen in this “cloth optional” paradises, sent a clear message!

In Avignon, we had agreed to meet our friend "Echo" again, who joined us for the rest of our France-trip. We went to pick her up from the railway station and then set out to discover, all the three of us, this nice town. Also the “pont du gard” a roman aqueduct, was really worth a visit. Then we went to the naturist camping “la domaine de la Sablière". For the next 10 days, we enjoyed the sun and warmth at 25-30 °C in the wind protected valley of the river Cèze.

Together, we continued towards Switzerland, but stopped several times again on the way.  First at Orange, but after getting wet feet by walking the city, we went on over the hills to Roussillon. Here we could see a beautiful ocre colored landscape, with bizarre rock formations, washed out through the ages by the water. On the next day, we drove on and stopped for lunch in Sisteron. Now, we were on the "route Napoleon" which led us again to pretty Annecy, where we stayed for 2 days.

On a sunny 1st of May 2000, we returned back to Switzerland. First, we drove along lake Geneva’s southern shore, and then, between the impressive snow-covered mountains, through the Rhone valley. After visiting the ‘alptransit’ exhibition in Kandersteg, we put our Twingo car on a railway carriage, which brought us through the tunnel underneath the Lötschbergpass and then we continued to Küssnacht. We stayed with Echo for a week, then for two more, with Edith und Kari, Heinz’ sister and brother in law. During this time we mostly went out to visit friends and relatives once more, before moving on again.


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