Barajas, two hours later.
I am having a rough time parking my rented Opel Corsa in the designated underground parking slot under a tiny hotel in Madrid Barajas. I have just descended on a steep and narrow ramp under the hotel and all that I am seeing right now is a thick forest of support pillars. How the hell am I going to squeeze my car in there? And how the hell am I going to turn it around so that I can drive out later? There is only one other car parked in a corner to my right side: a large SUV
, cool down. If it was possible for an SUV
, it is also possible for a small Corsa. Here we go. Be bold.
Madrid, 19:00 local time.
I am lying on a bed in the emergency room of Hospital de Madrid
. No, I did not crash my Corsa. I almost broke my left ankle while going down the stairs in the tube. I had noble plans for tonight. I was on my way to see the Dama de Elche
at the National Museum of Archeology when disaster hit. Now my ankle is swollen as hell and has a beautiful, albeit cold, blueish shade. A doctor has just seen my leg and we are waiting for the X-ray to come out. I hope it is not broken, as I still need my left leg for the next sixteen days of traveling around Portugal. Here comes the doctor with the good news: it is not broken, but... I am holding my breath here... but I need to walk using a walking stick. OK
, fair enough, just don’t tell me that I have to stay in bed. So if I can walk, I can also step on the car clutch, so I can still drive. My holidays are therefore not ruined. Thank God it was not my right leg. I wouldn’t have been able to step on the brakes anymore. Yikes, that was a close call.
Early morning of December 31st, around 02:00 hrs local time.
Back to the Madrid airport to pick up my friend scheduled to arrive on a WizzAir flight from Timisoara. The flight was delayed more than 4 hours due to heavy fog at TSR
. So I had enough time to find a drug store and buy a walking cane (baston ingles
, as the Spanish call it) and some painkillers for my leg. I also had a rough time trying to get the Corsa out the bloody garage under my hotel. What a first day... I am dead tired now, but the day is almost over. I’ll have a good night sleep and tomorrow off we go. Destination Cordoba for the New Year party.
31 December 2011, outskirts of Madrid, 11:00 hours.
I smile remembering the challenges that I faced earlier this morning. Challenge number 1: get into the bathtub for the morning shower. This is difficult when you’re using just one leg. Challenge number 2: get that Corsa out from the garage, again. And don’t leave any car paint on the garage walls.
Now everything is fine. The pain in my left ankle is bearable and I can step effortlessly on the clutch. I am driving on M40, heading south and listening carefully to my GPS. Or, for the sake of the metaphor, allow me call it my nav computer. So, my nav computer is a very smart toy and knows how to get me out of Madrid quickly and with minimum hassle. I like that it displays superb graphics and knows all the exists, ramps and bridges by their numbers. So it is easy to follow its inputs. You can’t miss a turn or an exit.
What a beautiful, sunny day. And what a nice drive on a deserted Spanish highway. 350 km ahead till we reach the ancient city of Cordoba.
31 December 2011, Cordoba, 17:00 hours.
I have just parked my car on the Avenida de la Republica Argentina
and now it strikes me. Our hotel is less than 1 km away. It is awfully difficult to walk after so many hours in the car. It takes me around 25 minutes for this short walk. And I can’t really handle this bloody walking cane. I am getting worried, is this holiday really going to be ruined by my ankle accident? Am I going to just drive the car and crawl to the nearest hotel bed afterwards? My mood is not looking very optimistic for the New Year Party.
31 December 2011, Cordoba, almost midnight.
For the New Year party I am having a tortilla de patatas
and some champagne in one of Cordoba’s squares. I am dying to see the Mezquita
instead of listening to this almost hysterical lady vocalizing all over that stage in the centre of the square. I am unable to walk, unfortunately. The Great Mosque of Cordoba is another ten minutes down the narrow streets. Out of reach.
1 January 2012, Cordoba, 09:00 hours.
Now is the time for a little bit of sightseeing. I am determined to walk from the hotel to the mosque. I remember how much I loved it when I saw it for the first time, in July 2009 - click here for a detailed trip report on the Great Mosque of Cordoba
Cordoba, a deserted city in the morning of January 1st, 2012:
That’s me and my walking stick:
I have always liked the huge walls surrounding the mosque:
Orange trees and Mediterranean Cypress in the mosque’s yard:
Overview of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba:
1 January 2012, Puerto de Santa Maria, 21:00 hours.
We left Cordoba at noon and drove almost 300 km to Puerto de Santa Maria, our second scheduled stop. And the last one before crossing into Portugal. We are now walking at the beach near a pine forest; it is dark outside and we cannot see the Atlantic, but we can hear it loud and clear. There is no wind at all. However, the waves must be pretty strong, judging from the noise they’re making out there in the dark. I can also sniff the ocean with my traveller’s nose... the air has an unmistakable salty flavour.
2 January 2012, Cadiz, early morning.
Short stop in Cadiz before leaving for Jerez and then, early evening, for Portugal. It’s a cloudy day with showers from time to time. The city looks very interesting, surrounded by the ocean from all sides and has a very nice old quarter. The 18th century cathedral is worth a visit:
First view of the ocean during day time:
2 January 2012, 22:00 hours Spanish time.
Observing the lawful top speed of 120 km per hour, we cross the bridge over the Guadiana river, the border between Spain and Portugal. We are late, as the roads have been very busy around the Spanish city of Huelva, 50 km away from the border line. The good news is that, once in Portugal, we will save one hour, as we have to counterclockwise adjust our watches. Our time will then match the Coordinated Universal Time.
My nav computer switches to Portugal automatically: the road’s call sign changes from A-49 into A-22. Adiós, España! Bem-vindo a Portugal!
Faro is our first destination in Portugal. Our initial impression is mixed. The buildings and the roads look slummy and shaby. Compared to Spain, this place has a unique vintage flavour. We can feel it from inside our car.
3 January 2012, Faro, 10:00 hours.
Busy day ahead. We plan to visit Faro, Albufeira and Cabo de Sao Vicente. We have no idea where we’re going to sleep tonight, as from this point on we ran out of bookings. We’ll try to sort this out on a daily basis from cafes and restaurants providing wi-fi Internet access.
A swift visit to Faro’s old quarter was just enough for making us instantly fall in love with Portugal. It’s beyond words to explain why this happened so quickly. The warm air, deserted streets, incredible bright light, the smell of the salty ocean - all this make winter Portugal such an enjoyable experience. And we haven’t even touched food and wine yet…
The Municipal Museum in Faro, hosted in a 16th century convent:
Islamic oil lamps:
An ancient mosaic depicting Oceanos, god of the huge river encircling the world in Greek mythology (four months earlier I have seen another depiction of Oceanos in the Zeugma Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey):
White stork on the museum’s roof:
Another kind of a bird flying low and at high speeds (I think it’s G-EZDI, delivered to EasyJet in 2008):
Faro’s airport (an important RyanAir hub) is visible from the old quarter:
3 January 2012, Albufeira, 14:00 hours.
Now that’s a hell of a view in front of us. We are left speechless on a high cliff. It’s like we have never seen the sea before in our entire life. The sight of the ocean is stunning:
We are in Albufeira and I love the small museum here. From each and every window, from each and every corner of the building, I can see the huge ocean down there.
This is what made us stop here: a Neolithic vase, 7000 years old, not a single piece missing:
3 January 2012, Cabo de Sao Vicente, 17:30 hours.
We made it. We’ve arrived in time for the sunset at Europe’s southwesternmost point (according to the teachings of my Lonely Planet bible). We are right on top of the cape. I like this place. For the Portuguese, Saint Vincent is the patron saint of wine and sea voyages. Wine and sea voyages... they kinda go together, don’t they?
The lighthouse of Cabo de Sao Vicente:
To our left side is the fortress of Sagres, built in 1632:
Everybody comes to the lighthouse to see it lighten-up after sundown:
Good morning, New York!
Darnkess falls over Portugal:
After dark we realise that we still don’t have a place to sleep for tonight. I am leaving our faith in the hands of my nav computer and order it to take us to the nearest hotel. The nav computer makes a quick calculation and points out a hotel in Sagres, a village nearby. Twenty minutes later we settle in for the night in a three star hotel, paying the price of a hostel: 13 euros per person, parking slot y compris
. I love traveling in winter.
Later in the evening, first culinary experience made in Portugal. A small fish restaurant near the beach of Sagres. Dish of the day: cataplana de peixe
, a tasty and steamy fish and vegetable stew. The secret of the cook is that he only puts potatos and onions inside, but plenty of fish of different sorts. We managed to count four different species of fish in our large aluminium pot. Yummy!
3 January 2012, Sagres, 23:50 hours.
I am lying on my bed on the third floor of Aparthotel Navigator. Lights are off. I intentionally left the window slightly open so that I can hear the waves. The view outside is more like a dream than reality. To my left, with the help of tonight’s moon, I can see the dark-blue ocean. To my right, far away in the distance, I can see the lighthouse of Cabo de Sao Vicente. Every five seconds its lenses rotate and flash a thin and bright beam of light. It is a view out of this world.