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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Three day escape to Sierra Nevada!

Natalia and friends on the Sierra Nevada slopes
Hi there Nat online: It’s fast becoming tradition to head up and enjoy the snow every time my birthday comes around. It’s the best way I can think of to celebrate my birthday, enjoying a sport which makes you feel so alive. One of the best things about living in Marbella, is that on the 22nd of March I was enjoying the sunshine and warm weather, and on the 23rd I was strapping on my board and surfing down the mountain, beach and snow a mere two hours away from each other!
Our trip consisted of three full days of snowboarding from Friday to Sunday. Arriving Thursday night and leaving Sunday afternoon. Usually we stay in a hotel, I’ve stayed at the Hotel Melia (there are two), Hotel Kenia and Hotel Monachil and we have always enjoyed our stay, however this year, because we were more people and our budgets were tighter we decided to rent an apartment. For three nights it cost 514 Euros, which is pretty good, especially when your dividing it between 6! There are plenty of websites in which you can find somewhere to rent just make sure that its not located too far away from the ski lifts, or you’ll have a long and heavy walk ahead of you, which is the worst especially when your going back home after a long day of skiing.
You’ll find plenty of good places to stop for lunch or have a hearty dinner, my personal favourite is La Antorcha, they specialize in carne a la piedra (steak which you cook yourself on a hot stone) and they bring plenty of appetizers before your main dish. If your not in the mood for meat there's also a new sushi restaurant called Kotobuki, which opened up this season, and was recommended to us by several people. If you like to go out and party stop by Hipodromo or Soho, their right next to each other and both have a great atmosphere!
If you’ve read my earlier post back in December you’ll remember that I’m big on getting classes, for my own and other's safety. I always go back to Escuela Tecnica Ski/Snow Carlos Ollmedo here the instructors are great, professional and super friendly. They also have close ties to a shop called White World where you can buy or rent gear at reasonable prices. Over the years I’ve bought almost all my things there.
If your thinking of going up before the season ends, don't leave if for too long, it’s been one of worst years for snow, and in some spots it’s lying thin, we were lucky because it actually snowed on Saturday and the temperatures went down on Sunday. So make sure to check the weather forecast ahead of time! Have fun and be safe!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Starting the Via de la Plata in Seville

The Start of our Adventure!
In September 2011 my daughter Shayne and I started out from Seville on the Via de la Plata. Ahead of us lay 978kms of walking northwards through Spain towards Santiago de Compostela.  Every good pilgrim needs credentials before setting out so we had contacted the Amigos de la Asociación de la Via de la Plata in Seville.  As we were arriving in Seville after their closing time, they told us that the Albergue Triana Backpackers,  Calle Rodrigo de Triana, 69, 41010 Sevilla or the Hotel Simon Calle García de Vinuesa, 19 Casco Antiguo, 41001 Seville could supply our credentials over weekends and when they were closed.

Shayne and I had decided to use hostels rather than albergues and because Hotel Simon could give us a comfortable first night's sleep as well as supply our pilgrims credentials we decided to stay there for our first night's stay in Seville. We had travelled up from Marbella by bus and arrived at the Prado de San Sebastian bus station in the south of Sevilla. Two minutes walk from the Estación de Autobuses Prado de San Sebastian is the Plaza transport interchange. We climbed aboard the super smart T1 tram  and glided at walking pace towards the Giralda Cathedral. There is a T1 stop at Archivo de las Indias and the next and last T1 stop on the short journey is Plaza Nueva. Hotel Simon is halfway between the two. I suggest getting off at the Archivo de las Indias stop, just before the Giralda and walking along the left hand pavement in the direction of  travel until you intersect with Calle García de Vinuesa just after the Giralda. You could easily walk from the Prado de San Sebastian bus station to the Hotel Simon but it'll be your last chance to travel with your pack on the floor and for less than €2 it's well worth it!

If you are arriving by plane and taking the Sevilla airport bus into the centre of the city, you'll also get off at the Prado de San Sebastian bus station and follow the same route as we did on the comfortable T1 tram. We actually arrived by bus from Marbella having booked our tickets online using the Los Amarillos service.

Seville's Giralda Cathedral by night.
At the Hotel Simon we were given the first room on the left on the ground floor and for a bit of fun laid our packs out ceremoniously on the beds. It was getting on in the evening and time for carb loading. We walked up behind the Giralda cathedral through the still crowded streets and stylish Sevillanos to a pizzeria I had eaten at before. If you would like to treat yourself to good food in pleasant surroundings before setting off and you are staying at nearby Hotel Simon then Restaurante Pizzeria San Marco will be a good choice. It's not more than five minutes from the hotel, tucked away behind the Giralda in Calle Mesón del Moro, 6, 41004 Sevilla Tel:  954 21 43 90.  With lots of little side rooms and an attentive staff, we had a tasty, filling meal finished off with cold beers. Shayne suggested a glass of Pacharan. Sharing the start of such an adventure with my daughter was a very special experience and made it a memorable evening. The traffic rumbling past our window on the cobbled street outside did nothing to disturb our sleep.

Where we got our first Credentials Stamp
The next morning as we checked out we were pleased to learn that by staying at the Hotel Simon and collecting our credentials there we were being given a special "Pilgrim's Discount." Paying €2 each for our credentials at the reception desk we had to state if were travelling on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. Our receptionist suggested we went to the Giralda Cathedral to get the first  stamp in our pilgrim's passport.

We left our packs in our room and walked around the corner to wait with the other early morning worshippers at the  Avda Constitución side entrance to the cathedral. The security guard that you see on the left of the photo taken inside the cathedral told us to wait until the end of the mass and then kindly took us into an inner room through the black door that you see to the right of the cathedral explaining to the priest that we wanted our credentials stamped. The priest did so and wished us ¡Buen camino!

978km to go!
Our route out of Sevilla took us past the Hotel  Simon again and after picking up our packs from our room we stopped to pose in front of the door. It was a lovely day, already warming slightly but we were fresh, happy and we were off! If you'd like any information about travelling into Seville or need suggestions,  write to me in the comments box in the blog below. We'll be back on the Via de la Plata  in May 2012 and I'll be happy to pass on my experiences so far. The link below will take you with us on Day One as far as Guillena.

Day One Seville to Guillena

Monday, 12 March 2012

Parking in La Linea

 Kristin wrote in to ask about parking in Benahavis and Puerto Banus and also in La Linea before she crossed the border on  foot into Gibraltar. I needed to go back to check on the now non existent left luggage lockers in La Linea bus station which had mysteriously disappeared since I last wrote about them in 2009 so because my wife and I were in Los Barrios on Saturday morning, we  drove down to check out the parking garages near the frontier with Gibraltar at the same time.

You are absolutely right in your planning Kristin, there is no need to take a car on a day's excursion into Gibraltar.  It's much simpler to take a taxi or bus from the border. Crossing the frontier out of Spain from La Linea on foot is half the fun of visiting Gibraltar. If you are lucky, a plane might just be landing or taking off. The line of cars and walkers always wait good naturedly in the sun and it seems to take ages before the plane's engines are run up before take off but as soon as the plane is in the air, or taxied back to Gibraltar airport,  the barriers on both sides lift and the visitors surge forward across the runway. 

Don't expect to see Gibraltar on any of the road signs on the A7 coastal road, La Linea is clearly signposted though. Whether you drop down to La Linea coming from the Malaga side or approach it from the Cadíz side of the  peninsular head for the big Avenida del Ejército which runs across La Linea, connecting the Mediterranean side of the Rock with Algeciras Bay, one block back from the border.  

There are lots and lots of pay and display parking places along this avenue, be generous with your time allocation so that you don't have to suddenly cut short your visit whilst in Gibraltar. The tariffs on the pay and display machines work out at a little more than €1.00 an hour. (2012) If you'd like to come back to a cooler car in the summer, make for the two entrances to the Focona under ground parking garage in La Linea. We always use the entrance seen in the picture above which is right next to the big roundabout half way along on the Gibraltar side of Avenida del Ejército. 

If you are using a GPS, just set it on Avenida del Ejército.  The Focona Parking Garage could not give me a street number for this entrance, but you'll easily pick up the blue signs for the public parking garage. The roundabout is big enough for you to do a couple of rounds without anyone noticing whilst you pick out the entrance.  At the same point there are actually two separate entrances to two different garages. The bigger one is Parking Focona to the right, on the left is the entrance to Parking Constitución. I can't remember ever using this last one.

Parking Focona also has another entrance, Avenida 20 de Abril, 11300, La Linea de la Concepción. A hint, if you are doing an online bus ticket booking or setting the address in your GPS, you may need to put in Concepción de la Linea.  Who said life is straightforward? This second entrance is easiest found using your GPS. It will come up on Google Maps though. It's an enormous garage with lots of space, it does fill up during the summer.

Please note tariffs change over the years, please write in to me with the latest costs if you see it changed. 
There is an automatic payment machine or if you don't have change, a ticket office just inside. Leave all your belongings in the car boot out of sight. I always give this advice no matter where you park your car in Spain.

The Focona garage is also where Gomarbella hire cars are picked up and returned in La Linea. The car hire offices are  just outside the parking garage in La Linea on the pedestrian approach to the border.  When picking up a car, after flying into Gibraltar, cross the border, do the formalities in the car hire office and then drop into the garage to pick up your car.

As promised Kristin, I've dedicated this page to you!  I hope you and your husband have a really good visit to Puerto Banus and Benahavis and a great day out in Gibraltar.