Seville – Sanlucar de Barrameda – Seville (154 Miles)
For the first time, since commencing this year’s European travels, we awoke to mist, it was dry, and warm, but the thin white veil that hung in the air, over the river and Marina, gave it an almost eerie ambience. We had liked this place, a lot, and it would have been very easy to have stayed longer as we felt settled. However, time was fast ticking away, there were still a couple of places we wanted to visit on the ‘Andalusian’ West Coast and although that didn’t include ‘Cadiz’ in our initial plans, being so close, it would seem a shame not to take a peek. If we were to go to Morocco, and that was looking more likely as the days went by, even with me showing Shazza the news reports of the ‘flooding’ that had already accounted for thirty-two lives, then, to get the best out of our time there we would really need to spend several weeks in the country. Although we were not yet even half way through this current ‘winter’ adventure, we knew that we had an appointment with a Ferry at Santander on the 2nd March, so we had to allocate some time for the return trip through Spain.
Our journey today was around 74 miles and would take us approximately ninety minutes. We were headed for the town of ‘Sanlucar de Barrameda‘, their was a ‘tolerated’ parking area which had a ‘Motorhome Service Point’ and people we have met who have been there told us it was a nice place. However, we had not selected it as a destination for any other reason than it was highlighted in ‘Green‘ on ‘Shazza’s’ road map, indicating that it was a place that had ‘Services’ !!
After doing the routine ‘domestics’ we very reluctantly departed ‘Puerta Gelves‘, having now added this to our list of favourite locations. Prior to departing I had checked the route using the ‘Google’ mapping on my iPad, and although we were headed South West, we needed to be on the opposite side of the river and there was no way, at present, to do that by heading directly South from Gelves, although the road map did show a road ‘under construction‘. So we would need to turn ‘Right’ and head towards Seville, then take the Southern Ring Road, simple enough really !! We departed the ‘port’ and ‘Snoopy’ instructed us to turn Left ? Now, even though my head was telling me that this was wrong, I dutifully did as I was told, rational thought said to me that perhaps the road shown as ‘under construction‘ on the road map, was perhaps out of date and ‘Snoopy’s’ mapping was correct….. it wasn’t !! So we had wasted ten minutes going in the wrong direction and had ignored ‘Snoopy’s’ instruction to exit, straight into a load of red and white concrete barriers onto a road that was still ‘under construction‘ !! Apart from this initial minor deviation the rest of the journey was quite uneventful, the road surfaces were idyllic, quite different in comparison to the numerous bumpy journey’s we had undertaken on the roads in Portugal.
We entered ‘Sanlucar’ and my heart sank, the picture that I had in my head of this place, after listening to people describe it, was not the one that was before my very eyes, even Shazza was sat quietly, which spoke volumes !! We had to trust in ‘Snoopy’ to weave our way through the maze of streets, she redeemed herself well after her earlier ‘faux pas‘ and guided us straight to the near sea front parking area, a large expanse of sandy ground, but well maintained. There were over twenty vans already parked up, of all the now familiar Nationalities, in regimented rows, side by side, around the perimeters, leaving the large central area clear, much like a military parade square. No-one had awnings out, or tables, and not one vehicle was up on levelling blocks, this after all was only a ‘tolerated parking’ place and not an ‘Aire’. The Motorhome Service Point was not located within this parking area but was conveniently located on the roadside just outside. The parking areas that overlooked the sea were already taken, that was no surprise, so we found ourselves a position on the perimeter, transformed ‘Big Momma’ back into ‘lived in mode’ then sat and ate lunch whilst watching the comings and goings from the other ‘residents’.
We no longer had access to WiFi, but we had downloaded an update of the BBC News and latest weather forecast before we departed ‘Gelves’ this morning. We were currently sat basking in glorious sunshine with nice blue sky in temperatures of 20 degrees(c), however, if the ‘work of fiction’ were to be believed then at 4pm we were due for ‘Heavy Thundery Rain’ with winds getting up to 24mph and then lasting continuously throughout the night and all through the following day !! We decided that if we were likely to be ‘confined to barracks’ for such an extended period that we best make the most of our opportunity to get out and explore the local area. Immediately opposite our parking area was a rather nice looking promenade which stretched further than our eyes could see, to both the left and right of us, we elected on this occasion to go left and if the opportunity arose, on another day, and subject to the weather, we would explore to the right. We came to the end of the promenade and rather than just turn around and walk back we decided to explore some of the inner streets. Now what is it that I have said on numerous occasions about not judging a book by its cover ? It would be fair to say that we ‘stumbled upon’, rather than intentionally sought out, the most wonderful town centre, a mix of both a modern pedestrianised shopping area with older, narrower streets, running in-between and a lovely square with a fountain surrounded by pavement Cafe/Bars and Restaurants. As is our usual mistake, we had gone out just as the ‘Siesta’ period was commencing and unlike our ‘British’ interpretation of Siesta, where we think that this period is all about the shops closing and everyone going home to sleep for three hours, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the shops were closing and wouldn’t re-open until 5pm, but the town was alive and vibrant, the Cafe/Bars were full, the sound of chattering and laughter, the air filled with the sounds of glasses chinking, plates clattering and the aromas of food being cooked, the Spanish were at lunch !!
We returned to ‘Big Momma’ from our ‘voyage of discovery’, promising ourselves to return later that evening when the shops had re-opened to see if the vibrancy was the same during the evening. I don’t know whether the two long days of pounding the streets of ‘Seville’ were taking their toll on us, but we both felt the need to take some time out for some individual ‘Personal Contemplation‘ !! After we had both woken up, completed our periods of ‘Personal Contemplation, we decided, over a cup of coffee, to consult our tourist bible, ‘Rough Guide to Spain‘, and we discovered that it had actually got quite a bit to say about this place, why we hadn’t consulted this before heaven knows, however, the following is just a ‘short extract’, from the extensive information provided, and the parts which particularly got our interest, you will see why when you read it, but to help you I have put some key points in ‘Bold’ text ………………………………
“It’s the main depot for ‘manzanilla’ wine, a pale dry variety much in evidence in the bars, which you can also sample during visits to the towns ‘Bodegas‘. The towns major producer, Bodega Antonio Barbadillo, near the castle, is one of the most interesting bodegas to visit, with a stop at their shop and museum thrown in at the end. A list of Sanlucar’s ‘seven‘ other bodegas offering visits is available from the tourism office. ‘Casa Balbino’ – behind an unassuming facade lies one of the best ‘tapas‘ bars in Andalucia. Long established, its walls are hung with faded photos and the obligatory bull’s heads. The smoothly efficient bar staff will guide you through a daunting tapas menu”
Why is it that the ‘Work of fiction‘ always gets it right when it forecasts bad weather !! So it may not have been right about the timing of the horrendous weather but at 5:30pm we heard the first droplets fall on ‘Big Mommas’ roof, followed very quickly by what I can only describe as an avalanche of water and very strong winds, we were going nowhere this evening so we sat and ate our Pork, Apple & Cider Casserole whilst listening to the thunder overhead, maybe we will get out tomorrow if this storm blows itself out !!
To say that it rained throughout the night would be a massive understatement, there is rain and then there is RAIN !! and it didn’t need the accompanying gale force winds to make it sound any worse than it was, but they came anyway, with the thunder and lightning thrown in just for good measure. We awoke to much of the same, the only difference being that when I looked out of the window we were now parked on a lake, correction, in a lake !! I decided to go outside to take a look at how submerged we were and when I stepped into ankle-deep water, with torrential rain still falling, I knew that we had to move and pretty damn quick ! There were only a few limited areas at the opposite end of the parking area that were not in standing water, although I would have to be quick as their would not be enough room for everyone if we all decided to re-locate. Before we could go anywhere though, I had to remove the ‘silver screen’, I weighed up the situation and decided that full wet suit, flippers, snorkel and mask would probably have been a bit over the top, so I just waded in with my flip-flops with my jeans rolled up to my knees, upon reflection, perhaps the wet suit and flippers may have looked a bit trendier !!
We edged forward slowly, fingers, and everything else we could cross, crossed, hoping that we didn’t sink into this soft sandy ‘gloop’. We didn’t sink and we found ourselves a piece of much firmer ground and what a good decision it had been to make the move when we did, as shortly after we had moved, some others tried to follow suit. There was not enough drier ground for everyone, so those that had been unfortunate enough to delay the decision to move, ended up with nowhere to move to and so ended up leaving the parking area completely. We of course knew that this weather had been forecast and we could have just sat it out at ‘Gelves’, at least there we would have had Hardstanding, EHU and WiFi, however, in our defence, how many times previously had the ‘work of fiction’ actually got it right !! This whole Southern and Western coastline was being battered by the raging storms, Spain as well as Portugal, so it wouldn’t have mattered where we were located, we would still be ‘confined to barracks’. It wasn’t cold, we had everything we needed and it gave us time to look at the ‘Camping Morocco‘ guide book we had purchased from ‘Vicarious Books’ and also the ‘Guide Maroc des Aires and campings‘, a French publication that Shazza had purchased on the Internet. This period of confinement had given Shazza the perfect opportunity to gain my undivided attention, and hopefully by getting me to look at some of the wonderful campsites and their locations, to finally convince me that ‘Morocco’ should be where our next adventure would be !!
By midday, the black clouds had been replaced by ‘greyish’ ones, the wind was still blowing quite a ‘hooley‘ but the sun had started to make brief appearances. The solar panel regulator showed that we were still putting in 3.4 amps and our battery levels were at 13.9 volts, so plenty of on-board power. It was too close to the ‘Siesta‘ period to make a trip into town worthwhile so we sat it out in the van, I used this ‘loose moment’ to start drafting this, my latest chapter of ‘War and Peace‘ whilst Shazza made some delicious ‘cheese scones‘ and a ‘Bakewell Tart‘, bring on more loose moments that’s what I say !! Another good decision as the sky again turned black and the heavens once again deposited their watery load !! Another good thing about being ‘confined to barracks’ is that you tend to ‘pootle’ around with things, like checking for available WiFi connections, without the assistance of the iBoost I may add, and it just so happened that I came across a connection that gave a complimentary thirty minutes access, I was still connected some two hours later !! There was no registration process, no giving of an Email address or bank details so thank you ‘Zona WiFi’ it helped prevent us from going stir crazy !!
The torrential rain just kept on falling but it was joined by almost ‘Hurricane Force’ winds which roughed us up a bit, ‘Big Momma’ was taking a real battering but their was a positive side to this, their were no leaks !! We were kept awake until 3am but there was nothing we could do, nowhere else to go, fortunately, when we re-located earlier that day, unbeknown to us at that time, we had pointed ‘Big Momma’ in the right direction, the wind hitting her right up the ‘Derrière’ as the French might say !! Needless to say we both awoke the following morning still feeling tired, a long lay in may have been in order, but that was pointless, as the rain was still falling just increasing on the deluge from the previous day. It was still very noisy, not the nice gentle rhythmic beat of rain on the roof that can be quite calming and hypnotic, however, on the bright side, the wind had gone, ‘Big Momma’ was still in one piece and as I peered out of the blind I could see that we were still on firm dryish ground and not half-submerged. Having had the luxury of ‘complimentary’ WiFi the previous evening, we had checked on the weather update and it looked like today was going to be another day of being ‘confined to barracks’.
We discussed our ‘flexible’ schedule, given the poor weather predictions for the next couple of days, we agreed that it was pointless to proceed with our plan of Wildcamping at ‘Chipiona‘ or our visit to ‘Cadiz‘, they will be put on another future trips ‘to do’ list. We were disappointed at not having the opportunity to look around Sanlucar, there were things to see and do here but not in the pouring rain !! We started to consider running to a campsite, at least we would have EHU, Showers, Toilets and perhaps even WiFi, but as we were consulting our campsite guides, the rain stopped, the sky turned from dark grey to blue and the sun peered from behind thinning clouds, ‘Works of fiction’ thank you, thank you, thank you for coming up trumps once again and getting it wrong !!
Whilst we had some respite in the weather we decided to risk going into the town, although knowing how quickly it could turn again we put on our rain jackets. The town had taken a battering as well, there were ‘armies’ of people wearing fluorescent jackets, armed with brooms and shovels, some were clearing debris from the roads and pavements whilst others were sweeping away lakes of standing water. The relentless torrents that had fallen throughout the night and the morning had obviously flooded shops, staff were still mopping up, not just by doorways but right inside where the water had forced its way through any slightest gap it could find. But what was fascinating to witness was not just the efficiency at which these people were dealing with this inconvenience, caused by the force of nature, but it was business as usual, the shops were still open and customers were just going about their normal shopping routines as if nothing had happened. In the UK the shops would bear a notice stating ‘Closed until further notice due to flooding‘. We visited the local undercover market and walked around, weaving our way in and out through the crowds queuing up to get their Fish, Meat, Vegetables, Cheeses and Olives. I loved these places, there is a buzz about them, it’s not just on the continent, I remember feeling that same buzz when we visited the produce market in Doncaster. I think it is probably because on a market stall it looks like the produce is real and has a freshness about it, the fact that you can pick items up, feel them, smell them and some stall holders will even cut you a piece of cheese, ham or salami to taste. I know that Supermarkets have their place, they tend to be cheaper, which in this day and age is important, but most of it is pre-packaged and so do you really know what you are getting. Anyway, I am digressing here, so back to Sanlucar, we didn’t buy anything from the market and left to wander the streets once more. We knew that their was quite a lot to see, we just didn’t know where most of it was !! There is only one thing to do in such situations, locate the ‘Office de Tourismo’……………
The office was empty of tourists until we entered, so we had the undivided attention of the three staff who smiled as they greeted us with a cheery “Hola” to which I cheerily replied “Hola, Buenos Dias, Losientes no hablo Espanol” (Hello, Good Day, Sorry I do not speak Spanish) followed swiftly by “Do you speak English ?“. The only male member of staff was first to respond and asked how he could be of assistance, in perfect English, albeit with his Spanish accent. He provided us with a town street plan, marked on it where we currently were, as in the Tourist Information Office and then, after telling him that we were in a ‘Auto Caravana’, he marked where the Motorhome Parking area was on the street plan. The detailed map showed all the major attractions, Monuments, Churches, Castle, Commercial Area and the seven ‘Bodegas‘ (Wineries) and, explained which ‘District‘ within the town that they were located, apart from the ‘Bodegas’, which were spread throughout the town but conveniently identified by a number on the street plan. He even went as far as to explain which ‘Bodega’ conducted tours in English. Finally I asked him the all important question, “Is their anywhere in town that sells Fresh milk ?“. He looked across to his female colleague, who had already heard my question, and she said “Yes, LIDL“, the man then ringed the area where we could find it and explained how to get there. He had been so informative and helpful that I nearly chanced my arm by asking him to explain to Shazza why ‘she‘ we shouldn’t be thinking of going to Morocco, but then I thought better of it !!
We returned to ‘Big Momma’ for lunch, no more than a ten minute walk away, just as we got inside the heavens opened once more. There was just so much to see and do here, surely the weather wasn’t going to thwart our opportunity of seeing at least some of it. Whilst we ate our lunch Shazza tried the WiFi connection again and discovered that she had another ‘complimentary’ thirty minute session. She consulted the ‘work of fiction’ which had once again changed its forecast, we would now be getting cloudy, but dry, weather for the next two days. So like the ‘work of fiction, we, once again, revised our already revised schedule. Instead of ‘running’ to a campsite, we would remain here until Monday, giving us the next two days to do what we wanted to do, for me that was go and do the wine tour followed by lunch at the ‘best tapas’ bar in Andalusia‘ and a visit to the castle, Shazza had a couple of places she wanted to look at as well, so two days should be sufficient. I was then informed by ‘she who must be obeyed‘ that, on Monday we could use the Service Point here to ‘Fill and Empty’, as appropriate, the on-board facilities, stop at ‘Jerez de la Frontera’ to top up with LPG and Diesel before proceeding to just outside ‘Algeciras ‘ to the office of ‘Carlos‘, who would, upon appropriate payment, provide us with our ‘open-ended’ return ferry ticket to Morocco !! Once said ticket and appropriate paperwork had been duly completed and received, we would then proceed to the nearby ‘LIDL’ supermarket to do a major re-stock of provisions before proceeding to overnight at the ferry port ready for our departure to Morocco the following day !! This was like a military operation, planned down to the most finite detail, hard to believe really that this had been a spur of the moment ‘suggestion‘ by my beloved !! I have had my suspicions for a little while now that she and the ‘work of fiction’ may just be in cahoots with each other !!
The rain eased enough in the afternoon to permit me to go a wandering with my camera, Shazza however was feeling the effects of ‘lack of sleep’ so decided to take the opportunity of a further period of ‘Personal Contemplation’. Shazza likes her sleep and when she doesn’t get her full eight hours she is not a happy teddy !! Combine that with continuous periods of confinement and ‘Cabin Fever’ kicks in pretty quickly and I could see the early warning signs !! I prayed that this break in the weather would be the start of the drying out process and that we could get out over the next couple of days to start exploring this lovely town.
As we had walked one part of the promenade the other day, I decided to turn right and explore the other side and when I returned to ‘Big Momma’ after about an hour or so the sun was still shining. Out came the sun chairs and we both sat outside enjoying the late afternoon warmth, our moods now lightened, we discussed our plan of action for the next two days. It was a short-lived reprieve, almost as soon as the sun had set and we had put away our chairs the dreaded noise re-commenced, at first just a light pitter-patter, then a roll of thunder and then somebody switched the lights out as the sky went as black as black can be. A much longer, deeper and more throatier roll, then bang of thunder, followed by the most spectacular lightning show, the percussion section then joined in, first the gentle tremble of the cymbals on the roof, building to a crescendo with the bass drums as they pounded their heavy watery beat on ‘Big Momma’s’ roof once more !! This lasted well into the night and early hours, Shazza was not going to be a happy teddy again.
When we awoke the thunder and lightning had stopped, unfortunately the rain hadn’t !! I went outside to see if their was any evidence of it clearing up, their wasn’t. We used the ‘free’ WiFi to check the ‘work of fiction’ again, it showed that we had no rain at all for the next two days, perhaps I should take a photo of the damn stuff and Email it to them !! We also noted that Morocco was much the same but that the ‘Algarve’ appeared to be basking in sunshine, we needed to make a decision, do we sit it out here, do we head for Algeciras irrespective of the forecast or do we return to the Algarve and postpone Morocco for a week, or at least until this weather front finally disappears. I voiced my opinion as to not wanting to go to Morocco at this time, it seemed stupid to run from one very wet country to another very wet country. Shazza was reluctant to return to the Algarve, apart from it being over a hundred miles in the ‘wrong’ direction, she was also fearful that once back there we may get comfortable again in surroundings that we liked and were now familiar with, she had a point ! We were about to resign ourselves to just sitting out our ‘Stormy Encounter’ when ‘He, who normally does as he is told‘ had a Eureka moment ? there was every possibility that this weather front, that was hitting Morocco and Southern Spain, could last for quite a few more days and although this Parking Area was pleasant enough, and ‘free’, we had no EHU, with very little brightness the Solar energy was minimal and that would take its toll as that would mean the re-charging of our ‘gadgets’ would need to be sacrificed, we had complimentary WiFi but with no gadgets !! However, where could we go that wasn’t a million miles away, and even if the weather was just as bad we would have Secure Hardstanding parking with EHU, Motorhome Services, unlimited access to WiFi, Hot Showers and flushing toilets and two on-site Cafe/Bars, local shops for all our daily provision needs, ALDI, LIDl and a Mercadonna shopping complex within walking/cycling distance and only a fifteen minute bus ride into the city !! Yes, I suggested going back to ‘Puerta Gelves‘, a place we had fallen in love with, and then I produced the ‘Ace card‘ from up my sleeve, it would only be an extra half hours drive to get to Algeciras when the weather changed and it was on the same route that we had planned, so we could top up with LPG en-route ?
It didn’t take Shazza long to think about it, in fact she didn’t even answer, but I got the feeling it was a ‘Yes’ by the speed in which she had transformed ‘Big Momma’ back into ‘on the road’ mode. We were disappointed, we even felt a little cheated that we had come here and not got a chance to see ‘anything‘, taken the ‘Bodega‘ tour or sampled the wines and that we hadn’t got to eat ‘Tapa’s’ at “The best Tapa’s bar in Andalusia“. However, we now had a very good reason to come back at some point in the future.
It was 13 degrees(c) when we pulled off the Parking area at Sanlucar and it was still raining, in fact it continued to rain for the next fifty miles !! However, we then saw the temperature gauge start to rise, the blue sky appeared and with it the sunshine. Shazza looked across at me, placed her hand on my shoulder and with a smile on her face said “do you know how much I love you ?” We pulled into the Marina which was bathed in glorious sunshine, parked up, plugged in to the EHU and then sat and enjoyed lunch, a little later than usual, but at least today we had a view to go with it.
There was a nice happy sound of afternoon ‘Siesta’ chatter coming across from the on-site Cafe/Bar so we decided to go and join in, we sat amongst our Spanish hosts and felt quite at home here, we agreed that we would stay for as long as we needed to, a day, a week, or a month, it didn’t really matter, we would head for Algeciras, and maybe even Morocco, when we were ready…………………………..