April 3, 2015: Driving Across Andalucia

Today is our big driving day and our chance to see a lot of the region from the car.  It is about three and a half hours from Cáñar to Arcos de la Frontera so we have budgeted most of the day for car travel.  We have no plans today at all except to drive and settle into the guesthouse.  We will be staying at the Casa Blues when we arrive.  Another AirBnB find.

It took a little while to get everyone ready and to get moving but we did not do too badly.  It was after ten when we left our village, well within our target window.  It was a nice morning for a drive.  The clouds from last night had all burned off, which made us very happy, as Dominica had been very concerned that we were going to have visibility issues this morning.  But everything was clear and sunny, no issues at all.

The little car, once out on the A44 headed north up to Granada, really shows just how underpowered it is.  On many of the hills it is all that our little Opal Corsa can do to hit two thirds of the speed limit!  The Corsa is only seventy horsepower, so very, very anemic.  The Corsa is Spanish made, though, even though the badge is German.  It is assembled is Zaragoza.  At least the fuel efficiency is good.

We drove up through Granada, our first time seeing our “local” city just under an hour away.  It is not far at all as the crow flies but between averaging under thirty kilometers per hour as we go west and then often only hitting eighty kilometers per hour on the highway due to the car’s lack of power (and being fully loaded with four people and luggage) as we go north on the highway we just cannot get there all that fast.  If we did not have the crazy mountain roads right here and could open up to one hundred and forty on the highway like everyone else we could be there in twenty or thirty minutes easily.

Granada was beautiful.  We got to drive right through it.  It is in a wide, sprawling valley against the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  The city was much larger and much more modern than I had pictured.  Tourists get such a skewed view of foreign cities with only old towns or selected areas being shown.  Granada is a very modern city full of modern amenities.  We are very looking forward to exploring it soon.  It is close enough that we have no plans to weekend here but plan to take morning trips up to see it.

The drive to the west was very interesting.  We had a good idea of the landscape between us and Granada, no surprises there.  Going west we went through a couple different mountain ranges.  We took the A-92 to the west, which meant that we drove all of Granada south to north and most of it east to west and out through Santa Fe.  Really gave us a good view of where the real Granadians live and work.  Very nice.

Driving in Spain, out on the “real” roads that people actually use, is a dream.  The roads are so smooth and well maintained, speeds and reasonable and the civil engineering and planning that has gone into them is so much better than what we are used to.  Gas stations are tiny but far more common so you are never worried about finding one or having a crowd; and they are so easy to use with little offshoots from the highway where you can just pull over and get right back on.  They have little mini-markets in them like in the States so drinks, chips, candy kind of stuff.

We had to get gas in Spain for the first time today, which proved to be extremely easy.  One thing that throws Americans off here is the price of gas, a bit more than in the U.S. but it is also surprising that the “low octane” gas is 95 octane and the high is 98 octane.  So you have to think of it as better than the best gas you can get in the U.S. and adjust the price expectations accordingly.  Normally in the U.S. you can only get 92 octane just anywhere and 93 is the super high stuff that only a few places sell and both are quite expensive.

The entire drive was beautiful.  All kinds of mountains and gorgeous farmland.  Little villages on hills.  The only real city of any size that we passed near was Antequera which is not very big and the highway does not go right through it.  It was highway driving most of the way, but the highway is not all that big.

We turned south and got onto the smaller roads in the Pueblo Blanco region of Cádiz and wondered slowly through the country, often the only car around, through some really lovely areas and got to see many of the famed white villages including Estepes and Villamartin.  So gorgeous.  It was a great drive.  Andalucia never ceases to be beautiful.

Arcos de la Frontera is the largest of the famed white towns, a city of over thirty thousands.  It was well past three in the afternoon when we arrived and nearly a quarter till four when we got up into town and pulled over to look at maps and try to discern how to get to the guesthouse.  Town is a little hard to navigate normally but we arrived with many of the streets blocked off for the Semana Santa processions!  That was not good.  We had hoped to have avoided that and thought that we were scheduling around all of that.  No such luck.  We were stuck in horrible traffic and dealing with police directing people at every turn.

After a stressful half of an hour trying to navigate town with no clear idea of where we were to go I found a municipal parking garage and just planted the car in there to wait until the procession was long over and the streets would be free.  Much of the street parking was lost to the procession too making everything very difficult.

We came out of the parking garage right into a big public park with a terrace restaurant right in the middle of it.  Perfect for us.  There was a tiny playground right there so that Dominica and me could sit and relax with some food and the girls could play on the playground.  The sun was out and it was quite warm which was the only nuisance.  And, of course, we were stressed about finding the hotel and figuring out what to do.  Driving and parking in new cities is always a bit stressful.

We probably sat at the restaurant for two hours or more.  We only got a small meal, an half kilo of fried assorted seafood which sounded brilliant but was, of course, a horrible idea because it was European style seafood, not what we were thinking at all because we were stressed and not thinking properly, and so it was whole fish dropped in a fryer with heads, tails, bones.  A huge pain to eat.  Not what we wanted to tackle while being stressed.  At least we had all of the time in the world.  The fish was at least pretty good, once we got to it.  And thankfully there was calamari mixed in too.  Luciana ate some calamari.  Liesl ate a little of the fish and some calamari.

It was getting late, like after six when we left the terraza restaurant, got in the car and made a run at finding the hotel again.  We had gotten some information from the proprietor while we were at the restaurant so had a better idea of what to do.  It was still pretty tricky and we ended up driving around the other end of town trying to figure out where to park and gave up by parking down by the river and lugging the kids and the very heavy bags (but not the luggage) up the entire hill of Arcos de la Frontera from the water level all the way up to the top of the city!  That was not fun at all, especially when attempting to navigate not knowing our way around.  We were hot and tired very quickly.  The girls did an amazing job of climbing the hill, we were so happy with them.

We got lost a few times and at one point actually stopped and talked to a family in their doorway to see if they could give us directions.  Thankfully they went in and got their teenage daughter who had some idea of where things were and then her dad explained how to get there, which we actually understood.

We finally arrived at the Casa Blues guesthouse at about seven, only five hours later than we had originally been hoping.  There was a major disaster going on at work so my normal meeting which would have been at seven was cancelled.  I had to get signed in and get right to work, though.

Casa Blues was really nice.  Lots of common space to relax.  The room itself was very small but it was all that we needed.  No reason to have anything more than that.  The guesthouse sat right in the middle of the city, right on the hillside with unfettered views to the entire north.  Very nice, indeed.  And there was a small terrace to sit on in front of our room, a huge open space with views on the main floor and terraces above that we didn’t even use.  Internet was only available on the main floor common space, though, that was one negative.

Dominica and the girls relaxed in the room for a while. I sat up in the common areas working all evening. Not super fun but it was what we had expected.  We had not had any plans to do anything fun tonight.  We were just getting to Arcos de la Frontera today so that we could have a full day here in town tomorrow.

At nine thirty, once worked had settled down some and now that we knew where the guesthouse was and where we could park I walked down the big hill again to get the car and move it closer.  This was a bit of an adventure on its own.  I had to drive up the hill into the old town dealing with the tight cobblestone streets and had to parallel park on a steep hill with only enough room for one car to pass with cars close in front and behind with a stick shift.  It was a bit challenging.

Then, once parked, I had to get the heavy luggage and lug it up the hill.  Not just up the hill but over rough stones which make it very hard to pull even with its wheels.

Everyone was hungry and I had seen some restaurants open with people sitting outside while I was out getting the car that seemed like they would not be too far of a walk from the guesthouse.  It took a while to convince everyone to give it a try and to get ready.  So it was well after ten when we made our way down the hill.  Of course, it was too late and everything in that part of the city had closed up.  (Had we known our way around, there were lots of restaurants available up the hill but we were not prepared to do any more exploring at this time.)

I had seen a pastry and candy shop on my earlier walk so I left the girls on the higher street and walked down there to see if that was still open.  Thankfully it was so they came down and joined me and we got a bag of candy, some chips and a few cakes to eat for “dinner.”  We also got ice cream to eat on the walk back up the hill.  The girls really, really loved their strawberry-vanille ice cream push pops that they got there.  They talked about them all weekend.

After walking back up the hill, especially from all the way down again where we had to go to get the food, we were pretty tired.  So we sat our on the terraza in the common area and ate.  Then the girls got ready for bed and I worked for a while yet.  The girls were out and about all day today so were looking forward to some quiet time with their iPads.  They played some games on them down in the room for the rest of the evening, which was not very much.

Was in bed before one.  Lots to do tomorrow.