Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mostly Morella and a bit of Cola!

Mostly Morella and a bit of Cola!

Wednesday 9th December 2015

We left our campsite at Prades and headed off to Morella with a journey of approximately 170 kms to cover - much of which would be over mountain roads. Now, this is really a bit further than we would usually travel in one day, but we still have a fair way to go before Christmas so we haven’t really got to long to linger in the mountains.  At the start of our journey the sun was shining brightly, but we hadn't gone far before thick fog descended, and although it didn’t cause us any driving problems, it did obscure our views of the hills and valleys that we were passing through.  Happily it only lasted for a few miles and then the sun managed to burn it away and we were blessed with a lovely warm day for our journey.  

We covered many miles of roads of this quality!
The views were amazing - huge areas of terraced vines and olive groves, but to start with the road was quite narrow with lots of bends and twists as it wound it’s way down through mountain passes and small villages. However, in the first 20 miles we only passed about 25 cars so it didn’t cause us any problems, and eventually, as we got lower it got wider, but still retained it's fantastic vistas.

We'd earmarked the Greenwich Meridian line (which was about 120 kms into our journey) as a place of interest to stop for lunch, but when we got there it was a bit disappointing - really just a lay-by next to an old olive grove with a couple of picnic benches and a post to mark the actual spot of the Meridian line.

An Interesting fact re olive trees:  John informs me that Gerald Durrel, in his book 'My Family and Other Animals', states that olive trees are still productive at 500 years old!
So, hamburgers eaten, we carried on, and it wasn’t long before we started to see evidence of a massive new road system being built - it looks like a project that will take many years (and cost many millions). 

Now, obviously where there is a lot of construction going on there is also a lot of traffic to support it, and it was here that we started to see multiple heavy camions (lorries) bringing loads of stone to form the roads foundations.  As one passed John commented ‘that was close’ and I replied ‘it was even closer on this side’­čśô.

Definitely white knuckle stuff
Anyway we made it safely to the Aire that sits just below the Fortress topped town of Morella - and what a beauty this spot is.  For a start it's free, and it also has fantastic views up to the fortress and out towards the remains of a 14th century aqueduct that used to carry water to the town. 

By the time we were settled it was to late to do any exploring so we will have that pleasure to look forward to tomorrow, and as we have the company of one other van, the T4rdis isn't lonely and we feel quite safe here.

Our View form the Aire

Thursday 10th December 2015

Overnight and this morning it was very cold - well we are 1200 metres above sea level!  So I snuggled down and kicked John out of bed to make our early morning tea and to put the heating on, and I didn’t stick a toe out of bed until the thermometer gauge reached 18 degrees! Then it was action stations - egg and bacon butties were made and consumed, our picnic lunch was soon packed, and then we were off on our exploration of the town and fortress of Morella - and that kept us busy for the rest of the day.

We left the T4rdis all alone in the Aire (the other van had left about 9ish) but we knew we would be able to keep an eye on it from where we were going!  The Aire book had informed us that it would only take 7 minutes to reach the town - but you would have to be a marathon runner to get there in that time.  John and I walked quite briskly - all up hill - and it took us a good 20 minutes to reach the town gate.

To start our visit we called in at the Tourist Information Office which is just inside the ‘Nevera Gate’, and where a very kind English speaking Spanish lady provided us with a map that highlighted the route we should take to see most of the main points of interest within the town and above. 

We strolled along main street which had loads of delightful touristy shops, but mostly they weren’t selling tat - the items on display included lovely hand crafted knit wear, lots of food items such as cheese, honey, cured ham, chocolate, bakery produce, wine and the local fire water, but at this stage we didn’t stop to buy anything because we knew we had lots of walking and stair climbing to do to see all that was on offer.  

We went back to this shop to buy goodies and the very
kind lady gave us lots of samples

Behind the town we also found a lovely esplanade where many of the locals seemed to be walking, and from this high vantage point we had very distant views over the country side for as far as the eye could see - and it could see a very very long way!  

We paused for coffee here, and then retraced our steps to The Main Church - Santa Maria la Major, paid the small entrance fee, and then had our breath taken away by the sheer grandeur of the both the outside and the inside.  

You can't see the detail of the carving - but it was amazing

The High Alter - More leaf than Tetley
The Organ dated from 1719 and has 3,693
Tubes - but I didn't count the Cherubs!

Amongst the many other items of beauty in the church we stood and admired the ‘Retrochoir’. This was a large square balcony area where the sculpture work represents the Last Judgement Day. 

It's chaired by Jesus Christ, and the 12 apostles are all present and sculpted from polychrome stone, and just below Christ you can see St Michael, the Archangel judging the souls. To the left a legion of saints are marching towards Heaven, whereas to the right demons and the doomed are on their way to Hell! Apparently it dates from the 14th century but it was a bit worrying because we could see cracks, sags and infilling where restoration had already taken place - but it looked as if it could maybe do with more  - We didn’t stand underneath!

Next it was the turn of The Convent of Sant Francesc and the Castle itself, and again, we had to pay a small entrance fee - I think both the church and the castle cost us about 8 quid altogether - and it was very well worth it, it is easily the most interesting place we've visited since starting our travels - so if I go on a bit  - ‘sorry’

We entered into the Cloister of the Convent where Franciscan monks lived at the end of the 13th Century - this is one of the areas presently being restored thus allowing some of the areas around it to be  used in recent times for concerts etc.  

Following this we entered the castle which was originally built around 950, but since then,  many changes have been made according to which military unit was in charge.  It’s history can trace numerous factions which include Romans and Arabs/Muslims, and it’s more recent service goes right up to 1911.

From the castle walls we spied the bells - so these were the ones responsible for disturbing my sleep - they rang all through the night,

and the bull ring - very likely still in use as it looked fairly well kept.

We couldn't find a picnic bench so we sat on the foot plates
while we ate!

We continued on and eventually came to a cannon - guess who’s the oldest?

And then we had the final push to reach the top 

Lots and Lots of Stairs
which we had to access through this tunnel - I think the people  might  have been very small in times gone by!.

The Towers of Sant Miquel
And finally, a bit of technical data about the castle - it's been described a s a two body crag, or a three layer cake!  Geologically, it is a haging synclinal (whatever that means) - the calcareous stone and clay form a store for water thus allowing it to withstand long sieges. Furthermore, the filtered water has created numerous caves which can trace their origins back to prehistoric times!

Well after that, as usual, what goes up must come down, so after our thoroughly enjoyable exploration we made our way back to our Aire, but on the way we stopped off at one of the shops (and as it was closed o'clock) I think we were very lucky to find one open, and purchased some goodies. The owner was quite keen to sell us as much as she could so she was very generous with her free samples. She offered us honey from a vast selection of types, several sorts of cheese, some horrible ham, 2 types of wine - and also the local fire water - which was also horrible, so when John took a large sip and then coughed I thought he was going to spit it out! (but he didn't). Anyway she was so kind we had to buy something!
Sheep's cheese, Lavender Honey and very delicious Wine (we know cos we drank it)
Then it was time to make our way back to our Aire, and we were quite pleased to see we had been joined by several other vans - the one next to ours being fellow Brits. We quickly introduced ourselves and found that they were very seasoned travellers, and happily, they were able to help us with our quandary over where to stay for Christmas. They also provided us with some very good advise re our future travels, and they even invited us to come and park on their drive if we are ever find ourselves back on the Isle of White! Hopefully we'll be able to meet up with them over the festive period for another chat!

Friday 11th December 2015

Today we were quite desperate for food shopping so we left our lovely Aire via more mountain roads with lots of hairpin bends and travelled down to Benicarlo where we found a large Lidl that provided almost all we needed to restock our cupboards. I say nearly all we needed - despite a very through search we couldn't find soap or sugar, so we'll have to stay dirty and unsweetened! However, we did find a brick (carton) of wine for .59 euros - and quite palatable it was too.

Then it was on to our new home for the next few days - a campsite just outside Penis-cola - Peniscola - (that's better - I don't think spell checker quite got it right!) We had our obligatory cuppa and then a quick lunch before walking the mile and a half down to the sea front, and if I'm honest, I was very underwhelmed and a bit sulky because the area appeared quite scruffy, and once again, everything was shut. However, as we walked along the prom we came to the local Tourist Info Office and they supplied us with a map for the 'Trails of Irta' Irta is a mountain range north of Valencia that forms part of a National Park that runs from the hills right down to the coast, and within it's confines there are numerous trails for both walking and cycling. So that's us sorted for tomorrow - cycling it will be.

Peniscola Castle (We didn't visit - we were all castled out after yesterday!

Saturday 12th December 2015

Well, following a bit of a rough night - we had cats fighting and squealing under the van - we unloaded our bikes and set off for a trail that John had plotted in the Irta Park. Usually, with our hybrid Scott bikes, we stick mostly to tarmac or reasonably smooth surfaces because the tyres can't really cope with too much rough stuff, so really today was on the verge of our my capabilities! The trail followed the line of the rocky coast for quite a few miles and the views were stunning, but the ground under our tyres was rough, rocky, and did I mention the hills - two bloody great big ones! We very nearly made it up the first one, but because of the loose surface we lost traction (not to mention breath) and had to get off and push for a short distance. Then it was down the other side, and luckily this had been concreted, so although it was a bit bumpy it wasn't to bad as we nipped around the 4 hairpin bends back down to almost sea level.

But as usual, it was a there and back ride, so after being fortified by our lunch we had to go back up the hill and around the bends again which seemed a bit of a monumental task. However, I wasn't too worried because our bikes have got lots of gears, so I thought I would be ok if I used the granny one - and I was till I got nearly to the top, but then I had to resort to the great granny one to see me over the peak!

You can just about see the trail winding up to the tower in the middle of the picture
We got back to the T4rdis about 4ish having both thoroughly enjoyed our outing, but we'd already made plans to move on again tomorrow. However, in the end these were changed because the hills and cycling seem to be more our cup of tea than the deserted high rise seaside towns. Therefore, we're going to head back into the hills above Valencia and John has 'plotted' several more rides for us there - maybe my great granny gear will be doing overtime.